Maddie Dawson at Guilford Station in Guilford, Connecticut

Polite Southern Society

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Maddie Dawson is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy this excerpt from Dawson’s latest novel, Matchmaking for Beginners.

* * *

The young couple is here!

Wendy hurries over to the entryway and claps her hands and says, “Everyone! Everyone! Of course y’all all know my darling, brilliant Noah—and now this is his lovely fiancée, Marnie MacGraw, soon to be our exquisite daughter-in-law! Welcome to you, dahlin’!”

The little quartet in the corner of the living room strikes up “Here Comes the Bride,” and everyone flocks around, shaking hands with the couple, blocking my view. I can hear Noah, heir to the family’s bluster and bravado, booming as he talks about the flight and the traffic, while his fiancée is being manhandled and hugged as though she’s a commodity who now belongs to everybody. If I crane my neck over to the right, I can see that she’s truly lovely—tall and thin, red-cheeked and golden, and wearing a blue beret tipped askew with a jauntiness you don’t normally see at Wendy’s parties.

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And then I notice something else about her, too, something about the way she peeks out from under her long blonde bangs. And—pow!—from across the room, her eyes meet mine and I swear something passes in a flash from her to me.

I had been about to get up from my place on the love seat, but now I fall back into it, close my eyes, and squeeze my fingers.

I know her. Oh my God, I actually feel like I know her.

It takes me a minute to regroup. Maybe I’m mistaken after all. How could it be? But no. It’s true. Marnie MacGraw is just like the old glorious me, standing there, facing this onslaught of Southern gentility, and I see her both young and old, and feel my own old heart pounding like it used to.

Come over here, sweetheart, I beam toward her.

So this—this—is why I’m here. It wasn’t to give some closure to years of family strife. It wasn’t to drink these absurd cocktails or even to revisit my roots.

I was meant to meet Marnie MacGraw.

I put my hand against my abdomen, against the ball of tumor that’s been growing there since last winter, the hard, solid mass that I already know is going to kill me outright before summer comes.

Come over here, Marnie MacGraw. I have so much I need to tell you.

Not yet. Not yet. She does not come.

Ah yes. Of course. There are duties to be performed when you’re being shown off to polite Southern society, when you’re the heir apparent’s intended. And under the strain of it all, Marnie MacGraw has turned fluttery, nervous—and then she makes a dreadful faux pas, one that’s so delightfully horrendous it alone would have stood her in good stead with me for a lifetime, even if I didn’t already know her. She declines to take a portion of Wendy’s Welsh rarebit. At first she simply shakes her head politely when it is thrust in her direction. She tries to claim she isn’t hungry, but that’s clearly untrue, as Wendy points out with her laser-like eyes flashing, because Marnie’s been traveling with Noah for hours, and Wendy happens to know that they missed both breakfast and lunch and have tried to survive on airline peanuts.

“Why, honey, you must eat!” Wendy exclaims. “You don’t have a single extra calorie on those bones, bless your heart!”

I close my eyes. She’s been here only a few minutes and has already earned herself a deadly “bless your heart.” Marnie, wobbly now, reaches out and takes a scone and a single red grape, but this is not the right thing either.

“No, no, my dear, have some rarebit,” urges Wendy. I know the edge in the voice. Somehow Noah has failed to explain to his true love that family law here requires that guests take some of the rarebit, and then they must practically fall to the ground writhing in their rapture over its wonderfulness, always so much more wonderful than last year.

And then Marnie says the thing that seals her fate. She stammers out the words, “I—I am so sorry, but I’m really not comfortable with eating rabbits.”

I put my hand over my mouth so people can’t see how hard I am smiling.

Aha! My niece’s eyes flash and she laughs her brittle, scary laugh and says in a loud voice that makes everyone stop and look: “My dear, wherever did you get the notion that rarebit has anything to do with rabbits? For heaven’s sake! Is it because they both start with R? Please don’t tell me that’s what you think!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t—oh, I’m so sorry—”

But that is that. What’s done is done. The dish is withdrawn, and Wendy sweeps away, shaking her head. People turn back to their conversations. Wendy the Wronged. Kids today. No manners at all.

* * *

Matchmaking for Beginners
by Maddie Dawson
Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | RJ Julia

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts Maddie Dawson at Jacobs Beach in Guilford, Connecticut.

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