Read The Next Queen of Heaven-SA Online

Authors: Gregory Maguire

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mothers and Daughters, #Teenagers, #Fantasy, #Action & Adventure, #Humorous, #City and Town Life, #New York (State), #Eccentrics and Eccentricities, #City and Town Life - New York (State)

The Next Queen of Heaven-SA

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The Next Queen of Heaven-SA
Stand Alone [0]
Gregory Maguire
HarperCollins (2009)
Rating:
★★★★☆
Tags:
Fiction, General, Mothers and Daughters, Teenagers, Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Humorous, City and Town Life, New York (State), Eccentrics and Eccentricities, City and Town Life - New York (State)

From Booklist

Maguire, author of the popular Wicked series of novels, which gives imaginative backstory to the events taking place in The Wizard of Oz, brings his creative storytelling from the realm of fantasy to the world of reality—but just barely. Quickly but delightfully read, Maguire’s new novel has as its canvas the entire little town of Thebes in Upstate New York. His natural compassion for people’s quirks gives his razor-sharp satire on small-town life a comfortable bed on which to rest. Maguire looks backward in time, to the advent of the new millennium in 2000. His theme is that, at this significant historical moment, town characters, including the church-lady Leontina Scale and her profanity-spewing daughter and the gay choir director, now face having their personal choices being called into question but eventually seeing the disparate pieces of their lives reconciled. Amusing entertainment but with a serious side as well. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Once word is out that the Wicked author has a new book, whether it is part of that series or not, requests will begin flowing into the public library --Brad Hooper

Review

“Reading The Next Queen of Heaven is like hanging on to the back of an out-of-control carnival ride—terrifying, thrilling, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.” (Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto and Run )

“Comes alive in many dimensions, many of them funny and slightly bonkers.” (Los Angeles Times )

“A delight. . . . [A] funny and warmhearted exploration of the sacred and the profane.” (Washington Post )

The Next Queen

of Heaven

For those who keep singing

and

for those who keep silent.

1

TO TABITHA’S REMARK that the town’s first speed-trap camera was totally unfair and kind of kinky, Mrs. Scales replied, after a prayerful silence, “Why don’t you think of it as the Eye of God?”

“God doesn’t do three strikes you’re out, last I heard,” said Tabitha. “Or give tickets. Big Brother’s more like it. I bet Jack Reeves sits in his mayor’s spy room somewhere taking notes and feeling himself.”

“I doubt it,” said her mother. “But Big Brother, that’s good. You’re doing some reading.”

“Don’t count on it. It’s just the forensic club is going Big Brother this, Big Brother that, at the No More Columbines pep rally.”

“Well, you can relax about surveillance from anyone but me. Besides, they say the camera isn’t hooked up yet. It doesn’t see anything. So it can’t do anything.” Tabitha inhaled around the gum she had tongued against the back of her front teeth.

“Maybe you’re right about it being, like, the Eye of God.”

Praise you Jesus, thought her mother, she’s coming around at last.

“Totally fucking blind.”

They coasted past the hapless aperture, a heady four miles per hour over the limit. A little frostiness of mood, not so bad in itself. Union Street curved north into downtown Thebes—what passed for downtown—and the silence locked mother and daughter together. Better than the usual smackdown session, thought Mrs. Scales.

She took advantage of the time out to practice her Inner Breathing. Breathe east. She imagined, miles out of sight, the softwood heart of the Northeast, the Adirondacks.

Breathe west. In the slant light of dusk—daylight savings time taking its bite again—she glimpsed the first iteration of America’s liquid prairie. It looked like chemical water on fire in the gloaming. The Lakes, the Lakes. Ontario, Huron, Superior, Erie. That other one. Not for the first time did
Erie
seem the word to cover them all.

Breathe north. Montreal (more or less). Breathe south. Syracuse. Compass rose breathing.

Center yourself, for Christ’s sake.

Mrs. Scales considered her dilemmas. Maybe this very moment, in the car hurrying past nasturtium-edged clouds, Tabitha was undergoing a conversion. Evolving from potty mouth to docile daughter. It could happen. Leontina was praying for it hard enough, wasn’t she? Or did this mean that her prayer, like her backhand and also according to the dental technician the care of her gums, was sadly lacking?

At the light by Croton Drugs, old Mrs. Chanarinjee in her push-walker and sari paused in the crosswalk. She leaned down at the open passenger window and chuckled a hello across Tabitha to her mother. Tabitha, recoiling as if she were being nosed by a dog, muttered, “She has curry coming out of her cunt,” and flipped her the bird. Mrs. Chanarinjee reached in and grabbed Tabitha’s middle finger and squeezed it till she squealed. Inner breathing north east south west.

Discernment, please. Was Mrs. Chanarinjee dispensing the wrath of a savage foreign god she’d never quite abandoned, or was she just unclear on the execution of the American handshake?

“Let the fuck go a me. Aren’t you supposed to be like on some burning pile of furniture or something?”

“I’m supposed to be on Percoset for my hips,” said Mrs. Chanarinjee. All business now.

“This Sunday, Mrs. Leontina Scales. Is it your turn to do the milk or mine?”

“I think mine, Savitra. Better get to the curb before the light changes.”

“Before the light changes, yes, yes.”

“Stupid bitch.” Tabitha exercised no volume control. “Stupid holy cow. Who wears tablecloths in fucking
October?”

Breathe. The compass rose again. Inner Breathing of the spirit. “It wouldn’t hurt you, Tabitha, to try to be nicer to people.”

“It wouldn’t hurt
me
if she fell down dead in that paisley bed-sheet.” The next day Tabitha’s mother met with Pastor Jakob Huyck and put it to him in hypothetical terms. If there was a child who had a mouth on her, who seemed determined to drive her single parent into an early grave, what would Pastor Huyck recommend? “Prayer,” said Pastor Huyck promptly. He nodded his head and picked at his straw-colored goatee as if it had lice in it. He was about fifty-five, and Mrs. Scales thought the goatee seemed rather a loose-cannon approach to Modern Maturity. “Prayer, and a good example,” said Pastor Huyck in his coming-attractions baritone. “Does she have a good example at home, Leontina?”

“An example of what?”

“I’ll do the praying. You be the good example. Don’t forget your Inner Breathing. Also your pocketbook, it’s there by the plant.”

On her way home, Mrs. Scales considered his advice. Be a good example? Had he meant her to be an example of goodness? She already had that one down cold, and it wasn’t working.

So he must mean be a good, effective example of badness. To show Tabitha how objectionable it was.

Centering herself by Inner Breathing and through flexing her rump muscles in rotation against the car seat, she veered off course and headed to the high school. “Thought I’d surprise you with a ride home,” she called brightly into the clot of sullen teenagers loitering between parked cars.

“No way,” said Tabitha, refusing to be separated from the human camouflage. “Caleb Briggs gets done at the plant at three, and he’s taking me to the Ames in Cleary Corners. The new Boss Bitch CD is out.”

“I’ll take you. I have to get some milk for Sunday anyway.”

“Shit,” said Tabitha. She left her bosom companions without comment. They looked into middle distances, perhaps hoping for this charade of family life to conclude lest they became virally infected. Not for the first time, Mrs. Scales wondered if anyone actually liked her daughter. They didn’t seem distressed to have her flushed out of their midst.

Leontina Scales used her blinker and peered both ways before inching out.

“This is so embarrassing,” said Tabitha. “Nobody’s mother has picked them up since like fourth grade. You’re like demented. This is like Auschwitz.”

“We’re clear. You can sit up.”

“I like it down here. I think I’ll die down here.”

“I have to go to the Grand Union first. Then to Maxy’s Hardware. You want to come in?”

“What the fuck for? I’d rather squat here and read the Bible.”

“Oh?” Mrs. Scales felt a pleasant shock. This was turning out better than she thought.

“Earth to Mom.
Only kidding.
I’m not a, you know.
Loser.”
Mrs. Scales took her time in the Grand Union. She did Inner Breathing to steady her resolve as far as the fish aisle, but the ice smelled old. By the time she got back to the car, Tabitha was fake snoring, nasally sucking in the word “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” and exhaling on

“shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.”

“Very funny. Next stop, Maxy’s.”

“Can I get out there and walk home?”

“I thought I was taking you to the Ames to get that new CD. The Boss Lady.”

“Boss Bitch, Mom.
Bitch.”
Apparently Tabitha liked the sound of that. “Bitch, Mom.

Bitch, Mom.”

“Tabitha.”

Her daughter muttered a profanity so cutting-edge that Leontina couldn’t place it as scatological, theological, sociological, or erotic. “That isn’t very nice.” She hoped a generic response wasn’t too lame.

“Depends on who does it.” A snort.

After Maxy’s, Mrs. Scales steered the car over Irish Hollow Road and came the back way into the Crosswinds Shopping Center parking lot. Tabitha opened her eyes. “Look, that’s Caleb’s motorcycle? That one? I’ll get out here and go with him? Caleb Briggs? He musta called in sick to work. I’ll go home with him. You know. Caleb Briggs.”

“Oh no you won’t. Go in and pick up your new CD. I have to go to the ATM first. I’m all out. I’ll meet you in a little while at the cashier.”

Mrs. Scales sat in the car with her hands clenched on the steering wheel. The minute hand twitched seven times. Then she got out. It felt as if she were going to the doctor. All dry mouth and nervous stomach. She aimed the door-lock rays at one of her new bumper stickers. “I brake for Communion.” When Leontina Scales had raised Tabitha in such decency, why was she so contrary? Why?

At the door of the Ames she looked in. This was the busy time. She saw Mrs. Prothero from church, with Mrs. Getchen and Mrs. Howe. Old Man Getchen was nodding off on a bench in the mold-blue light of fluorescence, trying to outlive his wife. Through the glass Mrs. Scales thought she could see Tabitha way down at the back. She didn’t know if Tabitha had found her CD yet. A formation of teenagers dawdled in front of the checkout lines, apparently waiting for one of their herd to reappear. Great. An audience. This wouldn’t work without an audience.

Mrs. Scales pushed the door open. “Afternoon, Vivian, hello there, Pauline. Mrs. Howe.” This wasn’t going to be easy. “Mind my language for a moment.” She wasn’t sure they had heard her. She took a deep Breath, Inner from all four quarters of the compass. Pastor Huyck recommended this, she reminded the Lord. “Tabitha! Tabitha Scales! Tabitha!” The chattering yielded at once to an all-strings version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Cashiers turned. Mrs. Prothero, Mrs. Getchen, Mrs. Howe turned. Mrs. Scales gave a wave and a bright-eyed smile that verged, she knew, on the hysterical. “Tabitha Scales,” she yelled, a gritty, carrying, outdoorsy bray, “you get the hell over here, or I’ll kick your ass so hard the shit is going to paralyze the fucking fan!” There. Four, count ’em, four Little Uglies in one sentence.

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