Book excerpt: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

In Maria Semple's hilarious new novel, housewife Bernadette is thrown into a tizzy when daughter Bee announces she wants to go on a trip to Antarctica—the last thing Bernadette can imagine is leaving the house and dealing with other people

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Where’d You Go Bernadette

That night at dinner, I sat through Mom and Dad’s “We’re-so-proud-of-you’s,” and “She’s-a-smart-one’s,” until there was a lull.

“You know what it means,” I said.  “The big thing it means.”

Mom and Dad frowned question marks at each other.

“You don’t remember?”  I said.   “You told me when I started Galer Street that if I got perfect grades the whole way through, I could have anything I wanted for a graduation present.”

“I do remember,” Mom said.  “It was to ward off further talk of a pony.”

“That’s what I wanted when I was little,” I said.  “But now, I want something different.  Do you want to know what it is?”

“I’m not sure,” Dad said.  “Do we?”

“A family trip to Antarctica!”  I pulled out the brochure I’d been sitting on.  It was from an adventure travel company that does cruises to exotic places.  I opened it to the Antarctica page and passed it across the table.   “If we go, it has to be over Christmas.”

“This Christmas?”  Mom said.  “Like in a month?”  She got up and started stuffing empty take-out containers into the bags they were delivered in.

Dad was already devouring the brochure.  “It’s their summer,” he said.  “It’s the only time you can go.”

“Because ponies are cute.”  Mom tied the handles in a knot and stuffed the bags in the trash.

“What do you say?”  Dad looked up at Mom.

“Isn’t this a bad time for you because of work?”

“We’re studying Antarctica,” I said.  “I’ve read all the explorer’s journals and I’m doing my presentation on Shackleton.”  I started wiggling in my chair.  “I can’t believe it.  Neither of you are saying no.”

“I was waiting for you,”  Dad said to Mom.  “You hate to travel.”

“I was waiting for you,” Mom said to Dad.  “You have to work.”

“Oh my God.  That’s yes!”  I jumped out of my chair.  “That’s a yes!”  My joy was so infectious that Ice Cream woke up and started barking and doing victory laps around the kitchen table.

“Is that a yes?”  Dad asked Mom.

“That’s a yes,”  Mom said.

* * *
Tuesday, November 16
From:  Bernadette Fox
To:  Manjula Kapoor
     Something unexpected has come up and I’d love it if you could work extra hours.  From my end, this trial period has been a lifesaver.  I hope it’s working for you, too.  If so, please let me know ASAP because I need you to work your Indian magic on a huge project. 
     OK:  I’ll stop being coy.
     You know I have a daughter, Bee.  (She’s the one you order the medicine for and wage valiant battle with the insurance company over.)  Apparently, my husband and I told her she could have anything she wanted if she graduated middle school with straight-A’s.  The straight A’s have arrived– or should I say straight S’s, because Galer Street is one of those liberal, grades-erode-self-esteem type schools (let’s hope you don’t have them in India)– and so what does Bee want?  To take a family trip to Antarctica!
     Of the million reasons I don’t want to go to Antarctica, the main one is that it will require me to leave the house.  You might have figured by now that’s something I don’t much like to do.  But I can’t argue with Bee.  She’s a good kid.  She has more character than me and Elgie and the next ten guys combined.  Plus she’s applying to boarding school for next fall, which she’ll of course get into because of said A’s.  Whoops, S’s!  So, it would be in pretty bad taste to deny Buzzy this.
     The only way to get to Antarctica is by cruise ship.  Even the smallest one has 150 passengers, which translates into me being trapped with 150 people who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me with their rudeness, waste, idiotic questions, incessant yammering, creepy food requests, boring small-talk, etc.  Or worse, they turn their curiosity towards me, and expect pleasantry in return.  I’m getting a panic attack just thinking about it.  A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?    
     If I give you the info, could you pretty please take over the paperwork, visas, plane tickets, everything involved with getting us three from Seattle to the White Continent?  Is this something you have time for? 
     Say yes,
     Oh!  You already have credit card numbers to pay for airfare, trip and accoutrements.  But in terms of your salary, I’d like you to take it directly out of my personal account.  When Elgie saw the Visa charge for your work last month– even though it wasn’t much money– he didn’t like the idea that I’d hired a virtual assistant from India. I told him I wouldn’t be using you anymore.  So, if we could, Manjula, let’s keep our budding romance an illicit one.
* * *
From:  Manjula
To: Bernadette
Dear Ms. Fox,
It would be my pleasure to assist you with your family travel plans to Antarctica.  Attached please find the contract for moving forward on a full-time basis.  Where indicated, please include your bank routing number.  I look forward to working together.
Warm Regards,
* * *
Invoice from Delhi World Assistants
Invoice Number: BFB39382
Associate:  Manjula Kapoor
40 hours a week at $0.75 USD/hr.   
TOTAL:                                        30.00 USD
Invoice Due in Full Upon Receipt
Excerpted from the book WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple. Copyright © 2012 by Maria Semple. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group.

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