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A secret no one dared whisper

Excerpt of Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg


Avon A
August 2008
On Sale: July 22, 2008
Featuring: Aaron Findley; Beth Diamond; Mindy Sherman
319 pages
ISBN: 0061253774
EAN: 9780061253775
Trade Size
Add to Wish List

Women's Fiction Contemporary

Also by Saralee Rosenberg:

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead, August 2008
Trade Size
Fate and Ms. Fortune, August 2006
Trade Size
Claire Voyant, November 2004
Trade Size
A Little Help From Above, December 2002

Excerpt of Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg

“Have you seen my Costco card?” Artie brushed and spit. “I could have sworn it was in my wallet.”

“It was.” Mindy dried her face. “Then I confiscated it.”

“I knew it!” His baby browns were on high beam. “What the hell did you do that for?”

“Because normal people who go in for batteries and a roast chicken don’t walk out with six cases of Gatorade and a kayak.”

“Not just Gatorade. Fierce Grape! You know the kids go crazy for that flavor.”

“Fine. But a kayak?”

“It called out to me.”

“Hello? I’m your wife. I can prove you once got seasick in a hot tub.”

“I was on medication.”

“It’s not funny, Artie. We are so broke right now.”

“You still shouldn’t have returned it without asking.”

“Hey, you bought it without asking. Besides, I had to get it out of here before you gave it a name. Remember Fluffy Cat?”

“You were just as sad as me when she ran away.”

“Whatever,” she shrugged. “Just tell me what’s so important that you have to get.”

“Can’t. It’s a surprise.”

“You want to surprise me?” She swatted him with a towel. Say to me, ‘Mindy honey. I made a big deposit. We get to keep the house for another month.”

“Why do you always have to be so negative?”

“Damn! Was I supposed to pop the champagne when our checks bounced?”

“I told you that wasn’t my fault. It was a bank error. Now can I have my card back?”

“After you tell me what you’re up to.”

“Okay, but you’re ruining my secret... They got in these really nice sheds for the backyard and I thought, wow, perfect birthday gift for Mindy.”

“A shed from Costco,” Mindy repeated. “For my birthday.”

“Yes!” Artie cheered. “Aren’t you always hocking me about getting all the crap out of the garage so we can get a car in there? If we had a shed, we’d have a place for the crap.”

“Or... we could throw out all the crap, skip the shed, and buy me a new dryer.”

“No. Then you’d accuse me of being one of those jerks who buys his wife house gifts.”

“A shed isn’t a house gift?”

“Technically it’s for the outside, and I was going to let you pick the color. C’mon. Think about it. In the winter, you wouldn’t have to stand out in the freezing cold cleaning off your car.”

“I thought that’s why we had kids.”

“I’m serious. You’ll thank me for this... Plus, where else would I put the kayak?”

“Doesn’t matter. I returned it.”

“That’s true. Fortunately Ira found the same one at his Costco, and you know my brother. Had to brag that he saved me money ‘cause the tax is less in Jersey.”

“Oh my God. What don’t you get, Artie? I don’t want a kayak, I don’t want a shed...”

“Then what do you want?”

“I want what every woman wants. A masseuse named Ivan and a closet full of boots.”

“Not me.” He hugged her. “I just want a shed.”

Mindy shoved her cell phone under her pillow, fearing that the constant vibrations would wake the kids. She had hinted to her best friend to please stop text messaging so early in the morning, but when Nadine was bored, everyone had to feel her pain.

did u open the letter? Nadine wrote.

Mindy laughed. She knew her so well. no 2 scared... u do it

y do I hafta do everything

‘cause lifesabitch n ur my friend

She lay back down, careful not to land on an arm or a leg. With her luck, she’d end up in “Newsday”: Merrick Mom Squishes Child to Death. Failed Mediterranean Diet to Blame.

Now that the kids were getting older, she and Artie were trying to crack down on this co-sleeping habit. "C'mon guys. Give us a break. Stay in your own beds!” Only to have their pleas ignored when the eldest translated for the younger two. “They’re chill. They full out love us.”

So no surprise when Mindy awoke to find body parts dangling in every direction, as if this was the set of a horror flick. But who was she kidding? She felt well rested, and as every parent knew, sleep was the new sex. Besides, nothing pleased her more than pajama scent and taking attendance. All three children were here and blessedly safe.

Ten-year old Jamie and her orphan Annie curls were burrowed under a pillow. A gentle nudge found six-year-old Little Ricky lying at the edge of the bed. And when she groped the floor, there was thirteen-year old Stacie, a former delight now turned pre-menstrual shrew.

Still, Mindy was not naive. She fretted about the proper age to break up this party, much as she’d agonized over how old the kids should be when they stopped showering with her. Thankfully her mother-in-law, Rhoda, VP General Motives, was happy to second guess her.

“In the old days families slept together ‘cause they had no choice. But you’ve got a four-bedroom house and the kids are big now... What are you waitin’ for? To get knocked unconscious from a kick in the head?”

Artie had his doubts, too. Would their kids grow up thinking orgies were normal?

Mindy drifted off. Maybe the true story of the Sherman family bed could be the inspiration for a book, plus or minus some dramatic license. The saga would begin when a nosy neighbor reported their scandalous sleeping arrangements to the child welfare authorities. Then faster than you could say bed-in-a-bag, the community would be in an uproar. There would be the requisite death threats, the innocent kids being pummeled at recess, and naturally, the fledgling civil liberty lawyer who took the case to the Supreme Court and won!

Enter TV’s title weight champs, Larry King AND Barbara Walters, duking it out over who would get the exclusive interview with the brave mom from Long Island who had come out of the linen closet to defy the child experts.

But the best would be the “People” magazine spread featuring Mindy and her new, svelte body, which would drive her next door neighbor, Beth, crazy. “That can not be Mindy Sherman. She’s never looked that good. Bet they Photoshopped her.”

Sadly the alarm rang, the fantasy faded and Mindy had to rejoin the show in progress, a duet of gushing water. Outside the heavy March rains were testing their aging gutters while in the master bath, Artie sang in the shower.

During the week he was so fastidious about his morning routines, Mindy could tell the time without having to peek at a clock. God forbid he should miss the 6:40, as if he was traveling on the Long Island Railroad and the rates were lower if he showered off-peak.

At least his daily ritual offered her a little solitude before she had to make lunches, look for lost sneakers and write notes to the teachers, most of which were filled with lies about homework. It was the main reason they’d gotten their dog, Costco (Dollar Tree was too long).

But maybe Nadine had a good idea. She should open the letter from Downtown Greetings to find out if she’d made it through the first round of their contest, not that she actually expected the popular card company to like her entry. This way when they informed her that she’d been eliminated, she wouldn’t have to fake her disappointment, like actors who lied that it was an honor just to be nominated.

Still, the idea of participating in a talent search did seem as exciting now as when she’d read the article in the paper. The writer and artist who teamed up to develop the most original new greeting card line would split a hundred grand and receive a one-year contract.

She may have been too pitchy to perform on “American Idol,” she thought when she downloaded the entry form, but compete with other writers to create a hilarious line of cards? Hello destiny! And if she God forbid won? She would use the prize money to pay off the loan from Stacie’s bat mitzvah. Maybe even shop at Bloomingdales instead of use it as a cut-through to Sbarro pizza.

Plus, this could be her chance for career advancement, not that she was suggesting that anything could top working reception three days a week at her father-in-law’s ophthalmology practice. “Mrs. Katz, you shouldn’t drive yet. You just had your eyes dilated. No, a cab home is not included in the fee.”

Mindy was especially encouraged after Nadine read her entry. “I'm dying this is so funny. They'd never know you just were flying through the house on your PMS broom."

But while waiting to hear back from the judges, Mindy vacillated between euphoria and dread. In one fantasy, they were so enthralled they said, "To hell with the contest. We have a permanent position for you." Other times she could hear a Simon Cowell type skewering her. "You call this funny? I got more laughs reading the instructions for my Chia Pet."

Now as she dug through her end table drawer for the envelope, she felt the tension mounting. She so wanted to participate in this competition, if for no other reason than it gave her a good out to abandon the much ballyhooed project she’d begun on her fortieth birthday, a memoir entitled, WHERE HAVE I BEEN ALL MY LIFE?

Sadly, in the year that passed, she, a former flower child, still had no clue what her purpose in life was, or how several decades had come and gone with her biggest achievement being that she had two recipes everyone wanted.

Trouble was, whenever she fretted about her lack of inspiration, Artie would tell her to stick to what she knew- stain removal and getting through on Ticketmaster. Also, that she needed to have a better attitude. But this was so unfair. Most days of the month she was a very positive person. In fact, not only was she cautiously optimistic about this contest, she even had faith. Maybe if she held the envelope to the light, she could make out the word congratulations.

“Great. You’re up.” Artie peeked from behind the bathroom door. “Gotta talk to you.”

She jumped, stashing the letter under the comforter.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I guess... did you recently buy a kayak?”

“Me? The guy who’s going to need a Dramamine drip on the cruise? Yeah, absolutely. I went over to Yacht World with Thurston Howell III and we picked out a nice one.”

“Never mind. I must have dreamt it.”

“I thought you spent every night with Dr. McDreamy.”

“Used to... now I think he’s co-sleeping with your Dr. House.”

“No! Not Dr. House!”

“Why are you guys talking so loud?” Stacie grumbled.

“You want it quiet?” Artie snapped. “Sleep in your own god damn room for a change.”

“Shhh,” Mindy scolded. “They don’t have to be up yet.” She scrambled to the bathroom.

He stared at the envelope in her hand. “Is that an eviction notice?”

“And you call me negative?” She closed the door. “No, it’s the letter from Downtown Greetings... It came yesterday but I was too chicken to open it.”

“You’re kidding. You’ve been waiting weeks to hear from them... although I still think it’s stupid that they didn’t just e-mail everyone.”

“True. Why would a greeting card company have any use for the post office?”

“Good point.” The five-nine teddy bear in brown curls laughed. “So let’s open it.”

"I’m afraid. It’s like when I had to open all those letters from the college admissions offices. Big envelope, you're in. Little envelope, you're calling Antoine’s School of Beauty... I just don’t want to be disappointed by one more thing.”

“Why do you always have to assume the worst? Why can’t you ever think, hey, today could be the day everything goes my way?”

“That’s exactly how I think. It just never happens.”

“Fine. Then don’t open it ‘til Christmas.”

“But what if they loved me? You think I’m hilarious! And besides, whenever I work on my memoir, I never get past the second page, and what are greeting cards? Two pages!”

The sound of a loud, hacking cough coming from their bedroom stopped them cold. “Little Ricky!” They eyed each other and ran.

“Mommmm!” Jamie screamed. “The little dweeb just coughed all over me.”

“Did not.” He coughed again.

“He’s gonna puke,” pre-med Stacie presented her case.

“No he’s not!” Artie stared her down. “Come here buddy.” He carried his son to the bathroom in case Stacie got lucky with her diagnosis. “You okay?”

He said yes, but Mindy felt his forehead. He was warm and the coughs were coming closer and closer together like contractions.

Please God. Not when they were T-minus four days until lift off... the start of their first vacation in years. A Caribbean cruise, courtesy of her in-laws, who wanted the family together to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. Even Mindy’s widowed mom, Helene, had been invited.

Granted, the week would be a mixed bag. Mindy would have to celebrate her birthday with her in-laws, eye doc Stan and Rhoda, a woman with more opinions than a retired judge, Artie’s brother, Ira, Mr. Hedge Fund, his wife, Dana, Queen of Tofu, their two children, Brandon and Abigale, aka Satanic Cretans. And adding to the merriment? A relative newcomer, literally.

Artie’s seventeen-year old son from his first marriage, Aaron, with whom he’d only recently been reunited, had unexpectedly said yes to the invitation to join them, forcing a fast, unrehearsed explanation to the kids as to how they had a half-brother in Oregon who had tattoos and a garage band called Pee-Nis.

“Sounds like an amazing time,” Nadine said over lunch. “I can see the headline now: Long Island Mom Jumps Ship... Mother-in-law denies involvement.”

“I’ll be okay,” she laughed. “If I have to, I’ll barricade myself and conduct a scientific study on exhibiting patience in confined quarters... maybe I’ll be an Intel finalist.”

“Sorry hon, that ship sailed in high school. Besides, the only study you should do is calculating how long it takes you to punch out Rhoda for all her kvetching... ‘My soup is cold... I asked for well done...what do you mean there are no more feather pillows’?”

Normally Mindy loved Nadine’s Rhoda impressions but now it only added to her angst, for no matter how much she dreaded being pent up with the whole, annoying Sherman family, she had waited an entire year for this vacation and would cry for the entire next one if she didn’t get the chance to sunbathe, island hop and drink like Cinderella on her night off.

At least now she finally had a convincing reason why her kids should be sleeping in their own beds: contagions that screwed up important plans. But what to do? This was her only day off before they left and she had a thousand errands to run.

“Ricky honey. Throw up if you have to,” she suggested. “You’ll feel much better.”

“No.” he shook. “Don’t like to. Do I have to go to school?”

“Yes,” she replied to her husband’s of course not.

Sure. Would Artie have to cancel his color appointment at the swanky Maximus Salon and have to spend the whole cruise wearing a Mets cap? My that would look lovely on formal night! Maybe she could leave Ricky home for an hour and run over there. Too crazy! This was a touch-up, not an emergency appendectomy... What if she picked up Stacie early from school and she babysat? No. She had play practice and Mrs. Morgan was threatening to kick out anyone who missed another rehearsal. And with all Jamie’s mishegas about scary noises coming from the attic, how could she be left in charge? Not even her mother could bail her out as she was already in Florida visiting her twin sister, Toby, who she’d invited on the cruise as it would have been her anniversary, too, if only Toby’s husband hadn’t dropped dead two years earlier.

But Artie was right. Why think the worst? Ricky was just congested. “Don’t worry sweety.” Mindy kissed him. “You’ll feel better after you take some medicine.”

“Okay,” he said, then vomited on the rug.

Mindy tried reading the clock on the microwave but didn’t have her contacts in yet and her glasses were upstairs. What good was it having family in the optical business if perfect vision wasn’t part of the deal?

She tore through a junk drawer and found a red frame with rhinestone elephants that screamed, hello, I have no taste. Who would ever wear anything this ghastly? Apparently her. And who cared what time it was anyway? Her son was sick, her day was shot, and if Rhoda got on the plane and felt a sniffle, she would diagnose it as pneumonia and never let Mindy forget that HER child had ruined THEIR special anniversary trip, for which they paid an ungodly sum AND generously invited her mother, Helene, who then had the NERVE to invite her sister.

As Mindy contemplated this disastrous turn of events, she searched for medicine, then caught a whiff of after shave. No matter how she pleaded, Artie was so heavy-handed, his scent trumpeted his arrival.

“Hey, nice glasses.” He opened the fridge. “Maybe I should carry those in the store.”

“That's where I got 'em. Which probably explains last month’s sale figures.”

"Impressive! Shermy gets a three-pointer." He pretended to shoot hoops. "Anyway, I never got to tell you what I needed to tell you before."

"Oh yeah." Mindy gathered enough cold medication to knock out Ricky’s entire first grade class. “What’s up?”

"I got Mr. Waspy Banker to take another meeting with me."

"How is good ol’ Waspy?" She grabbed the thermometer too. "Maybe this time you'll believe me. The guy's a blue-blood. You have to wear a navy suit."

"I will if you will." Artie took a large gulp of juice.

"No-no. Between the dandruff and his little breath mints, he creeps me out.”

"Please?" He fell to his knees. "My only experience begging is in bed with you."

Mindy laughed, but saw the worry in her husband's forlorn face. “When is the meeting?"

Artie bounced up. "Today at nine."

"You sound like a commercial for Regis and Kelly,” Mindy sighed. If only her optometrist husband hadn’t been so quick to buy into a new optical chain called Eye-Deals, he might have heard that the franchise fees were exorbitant and customers hated the selection and prices. The only clear vision she had now was of bankruptcy court.

“We’ll take Ricky with us,” Artie persisted. “By this afternoon he’ll be bouncing off the walls like always.”

“No he won’t. He’s got a fever, a cough and he threw up. What if it’s strep?”

“See what I mean? You always have to think the worst! It’s not strep. Let’s just send him to school and if he doesn’t feel good he can go hang out with the nurse.”

“I hate parents who do that and you know it. What is wrong with you?”

“I’m a desperate man, that’s what. I’ve been reworking the numbers and I think I can prove we’ll have a decent cash flow for the next fiscal year, but you’re the better talker.”

"You’ll do fine. Besides, it’s my day to drive.”

“Let the kids take the bus for God’s sake. Why do you have to take them every day?”

“Stop! I’ve explained this a hundred times. It’s just easier, okay?”

“How is it easier? You have to get up, get dressed, drive to the middle school, then come back and drive to Lakeside.”

“It’s easier becomes the buses come so early, and the kids always have so much stuff to shlep with their instruments and sports gear, and then they call me from school anyway to tell me they forgot their lunch or the envelope with the field trip money... trust me, it’s a lot less stressful when we drive and make sure everyone has everything they need the first time.”

“Fine. Whatever. I’m tired of arguing over this. Just call Beth and see if she’ll switch.”

“I can’t. As soon as she sees it’s me on the caller ID, she won’t answer.”

“Then go on line and IM her.”

“Can’t do that either. She blocked me.”


“Because it’s Tuesday and I have type O blood! How the hell should I know?”

“What if you create a new screen name, then you can at least see if she’s on line?”

“Oh screw it. This is getting stupider by the second. I’ll just be brave and call her. ”

“Thatta girl.”

“I mean what’s the worst she can do? Report me to the National Association of Minivan Moms? ‘Mrs. Sherman, one more violation and we’re taking away your five year jacket’.”

When Artie laughed, his whole body erupted like a shaken can of Coke. It was one of the things she loved most. That and his capacity to eat anything she made without complaint, as long as it didn’t up and bite him first.

“Oh. And out of curiosity,” she asked, “what happens if the bank turns us down again?”

“No big deal,” he hugged her. “We’ll lose the store and probably the house.”

“Fantastic!” she shrugged. “At least then you could stop feeling bad that we never got to buy a shed.”

“Oh man,” Artie sighed. “I always wanted a shed... I wonder if they come in three-bedroom, two-bath.”

Excerpt from Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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