THE END OF THE ALPHABET is a tender, intimate story of an ordinary life defined by an extraordinary love.
Ambrose Zephyr is a contented man. He shares a book-laden Victorian house with his loving wife, Zipper. He owns two suits, one of which he was married in. He is a courageous eater, save brussels sprouts. His knowledge of wine is vague and best defined as Napa, good; Australian, better; French, better still. Kir royale is his drink of occasion. For an Englishman he makes a poor cup of tea. He believes women are quantifiably wiser than men, and would never give Zipper the slightest reason to mistrust him or question his love. Zipper simply describes Ambrose as the only man she has ever loved. Without adjustment.
Then, just as he is turning fifty, Ambrose is told by his doctor that he has one month to live. Reeling from the news, he and Zipper embark on a whirlwind expedition to the places he has most loved or has always longed to visit, from A to Z, Amsterdam to Zanzibar. As they travel to Italian piazzas, Turkish baths, and other romantic destinations, all beautifully evoked by the author, Zipper struggles to deal with the grand unfairness of their circumstances as she buoys Ambrose with her gentle affection and humor. Meanwhile, Ambrose reflects on his life, one well lived, and comes to understand that death, like life, will be made bearable by the strength and grace of their devotion.
Richardson's lovely prose comes alive with an honesty and intensity that will leave you breathless and inspired by the simple beauty and power of love. THE END OF THE ALPHABET is a timeless, resonant exploration of the nature of love, loss, and life.
An abrupt death sentence given to a 50-year-old London ad exec forces an uneasy deliverance in Richardson's smartly setup, poignant tale. Given less than a month to live, Ambrose Zephyr, alphabet-obsessed since childhood, decides to spend out his last days traveling around the globe from A to Z. Ambrose and his wife, Zappora Ashkenazi (the couple is childless), begin in Amsterdam, viewing art by Velazquez and Rembrandt that has been significant to them in their loving marriage, and now looks wholly transformed. The two move between the sweet memories of past love and an unreal present, from Berlin to Chartres, the Great Pyramids of Khufu to Istanbul; when Ambrose begins to falter and they return home to their Kensington terrace flat. Reality and good manners demand that they inform their respective employers and friends of Ambrose's condition, while Zappora, a fashion editor attempting to keep a journal of the couple's last moments together, endures until the end. Richardson's tightly focused tale has panache, shadowed by a brooding suspense. (Aug.)
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August 07, 2007
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Excerpt from The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson
This story is unlikely.
Were it otherwise, or at the least more wished for, it would have begun on a Sunday morning. Early, as that was his best time of the day, and in April, that odd time between a thin winter and a plump spring.
He would have closed the door of his house and stood on his front step, eyeing the predawn sky. He would have given the neighborhood stray a shove from its perch on his window ledge. The scruffy cat would have hissed and bolted across the narrow road to the park across the way. He would have hissed back, proud he had at last defeated the mangy beast, and set off. As he had every Sunday morning as far back as he could remember.
As he walked up the road, the woman from number eighteen would be retrieving the morning paper from her doorstep. The cool morning would have meant she had remembered to throw on a dressing gown. They would have traded pleasant, awkward good mornings. He knew her to be the mother of two energetic children whose names he could never recall. She knew he worked in some sort of creative field. After a moment or two of searching for common ground, he would have asked after her children's artwork. He and his wife had no children of their own.
Farther on, he would have seen the elderly man and his tiny dog, who lived at number twelve, about to begin their morning walk around the park. The pair would be waiting to say hello. The man would have tipped his cap and launched directly into an eccentric opinion about something. The tiny dog would have begun yapping at the neighborhood stray.
He would have worried about disagreeing with the old fellow and causing offense or starting a discussion on a topic he knew nothing about or the soundness of his own opinion. He would have forced an agreeing laugh, wished his neighbor a good day, and eyed the dog with suspicion.
He would have made his way to Kensington High Street and grumbled about the winter that had passed. He would have wished he had taken his wife to Italy. But that would have been expensive or difficult or meant a bad time at the office. He would have sighed to himself, then smiled as the London sky inched from black to gray to yellow to blue.
He would have turned in at Kensington Gardens, up past the palace and on to Broad Walk. Here he would have been happiest. He would have paused near the Round Pond, looked toward the east and the swans, and squinted in his way to watch a girl of perhaps nine or ten, her hair dark and fine and in need of a trim or a ribbon, reading a book beyond her years. He would have closed his eyes in the warmth of a sun just clearing the budding treetops.
He would have checked his watch, counted his minutes and the day's schedule in his head, and turned for home. He would have retraced his route down the Walk, past the palace, along the High Street, into his road, past number twelve and number eighteen and the cat now back on the window ledge, and through his front door.
His wife would have begun to stir in her sleep. Five minutes more, she would have mumbled, just loud enough for him to hear as he made her tea. As usual, a tepid cup with too much milk.
Ambrose Zephyr would have been content that it was Sunday and that spring had come again to that part of London and that there was no need to go to the office. He would have read a draft of his wife's latest magazine column and (as gentle readers are obliged) made one or two enthusiastic comments.
He would have wondered about the days ahead of him and, as was his habit, dreamed of doing something else. And there it would have ended.
But that is not this story.
On or about his fiftieth birthday, Ambrose Zephyr failed his annual medical exam. An illness of inexplicable origin with neither known nor foreseeable cure was discovered. It would kill him within the month. Give or take a day.
It was suggested he might want to make arrangements concerning his remaining time.
Ambrose Zephyr lived with his wife--content, quiet, with few extravagances--in a narrow Victorian terrace full of books.
He owned two bespoke suits, one of which he had been married in. The othe--a three-piece linen number with lapelled waistcoat--he wore whenever and wherever he traveled: on business, on the underground, on his Sunday walk. A pocket square, discreetly puffed, always in place. He collected French-cuffed shirts as others might collect souvenir spoons or back issues of National Geographic. He rarely wore ties but liked them as challenges in graphic design. His footwear was predominantly Italian, loaferish, and bought in the sales on Oxford Street. His watches--of which there were many--were a range of silly colors and eccentric shapes.