Shelter Us, Chapter 1

This Ferris wheel revolves faster than I remember. It was Robert’s idea to come tonight. “A great way to say good-bye to the year—right, kiddos?” Oliver and Izzy jumped up and down, squealing their agreement. There was no saying no. And so we ride.

My stomach drops as the wheel lurches. Izzy is on my lap, and I tighten my grasp around his tiny, sturdy chest. It is his first time up here, he is curious by nature, and, at not quite two years old, he hasn’t yet developed a healthy fear of heights. He wears the layers I’ve forced upon him: red race car T-shirt, orange long-sleeved shirt (stained with “washable” finger paint), blue fleece sweatshirt zipped to his neck. Hand-me-downs, all. He wanted to wear the T-shirt alone. Wanted the skin on his neck and arms and ears to touch the sunset sky we’re flying toward, without a coat or cover negotiating the distance. He is all California, my little boy. But it is December 31, it is twilight, and I am cold. The chill outmatches my pink cotton sweater. The useless hood keeps falling off my head—style over substance. My ears are growing numb, but I let the hood lie limp on my back. I keep both arms wrapped around my squirmy boy, a hundred feet off the ground.

Across the circular yellow bench, Robert rests his hands on Oliver’s small shoulders. They are facing the ocean, backs toward us. The swoosh of air from the wheel’s motion lifts Robert’s straight brown hair, then rests it back in place. His brown wool–jacketed arms surround Oliver, our firstborn, who wears a navy blue parka without complaint. They huddle with their heads side by side, looking for dolphins or whales or sea monsters. Screams of laughter roll past us, the adjacent roller coaster rumbling by. The ocean reaches closer, then farther, then closer, over and over, around and around. I close my eyes. Since when have Ferris wheels made me nauseous?

I keep my stiff grip on Izzy, tamp down his inclination to investigate beyond this yellow orb holding our family. I try to submit to the motion, the swings of discomfort, the unpredictable stopping and starting, the peaking, the resting, the lifting, the dropping. As we round the bottom, I catch a glimpse of us as we may appear to the young couple next in line, their happy future five or ten years hence—a joyful evening, a buoyant marriage, two bubbling children, a dream lived out. Robert turns around to check how Izzy likes it. He sees me: jaw clenched, body locked. “Sarah,” he implores above the squall of gulls, “honey, try to have fun.”

Smile, I tell myself. I stretch my lips toward their corners. The brisk air whips a tear from my eye. I can tell by Robert’s shrug I’m unconvincing. Ah, but it’s what I’ve got.

_______

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Shelter Us is about characters in search of refuge both literal and metaphorical. In spare, unsentimental prose, Laura Nicole Diamond explores how grief can divide people, how the bonds of marriage can twist and fray under pressure, and how consolation can be found in the unlikeliest places. I couldn’t put this lovely book down.”

Christina Baker Kline, #1 NY Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

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