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Only Yesterday
Only Yesterday
Only Yesterday
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Only Yesterday

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In the last few days of his life, Pete Cameron (Cam) engages in a final struggle with self-doubt as he deals with memories of his past. The story takes place in the Midwest between 1961 and 2003, moving back and forth in time as Cam looks back on his life, his love for Maggie and their son, and the choices he made.

Release dateDec 29, 2021
Only Yesterday
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Toni Fuhrman

Toni Fuhrman is the author of four novels: Only Yesterday, A Windless Place, The Second Mrs. Price, and One Who Loves. Her novels are intensely personal explorations of intimacy and obsession within the context of strong family ties. Toni grew up in the Midwest and now makes her home in Los Angeles, where she is working on her next novel. Her personal essays on writing and reading are at tonifuhrman.com.

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    Only Yesterday - Toni Fuhrman


    Also by Toni Fuhrman

    One Who Loves

    The Second Mrs. Price

    A Windless Place

    Only Yesterday

    A novel



    Adelaide Books

    New York/Lisbon



    A novel

    By Toni Fuhrman

    Copyright © by Toni Fuhrman

    Cover design © 2021 Adelaide Books

    Published by Adelaide Books, New York / Lisbon



    Stevan V. Nikolic

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

    For any information, please address Adelaide Books

    at info@adelaidebooks.org

    or write to:

    Adelaide Books

    244 Fifth Ave. Suite D27

    New York, NY, 10001

    ISBN-13: 978-1-956635-55-3

    This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

    For David

    And the old saying came back to him:

    A man’s fate lies in his own heart.

    John Galsworthy, The Man of Property




















    About the Author




    He saw her first as she stopped at the curb on the opposite side of the street. He was farsighted and could see her clearly from his second-floor office window.

    She was young, with fair hair that fell below her shoulders and glinted in the dazzling October sunshine.

    She hesitated, put out a foot in a high-heeled pump, then brought it back again to the curb. She looked up at the building and he instinctively withdrew from his stance at the window. As soon as she looked down, he moved close to the window again, catching his breath. There was something …

    Automatically, from long training and self-discipline, he analyzed his reaction. He didn’t know her. He had never seen her, and yet …

    There was something in that small, sunlit face as she looked up at the window where he stood. Something he recognized or, perhaps, was prepared to recognize. Something that made him want to draw close to the window and watch her as she stood at the curb, hesitating.

    Main Street was relatively quiet this drowsy mid-

    afternoon. No doubt she was the young woman the employment agency, just down the street, was sending over. She was to do general office work on a temporary basis. She was well qualified although not highly experienced. She had had one other temporary job since she graduated from high school …

    He walked through the information still fresh in his mind, searching for the something that was drawing him to the window again, his face close to the glass, like a small boy gazing outside. There was nothing in the few facts he had been given, so it must be her, that young woman standing at the curb, hesitating, as though the street were a moat and she was waiting for the drawbridge to drop down before her.

    She was wearing a sky-blue dress, or perhaps it was a suit, the top close fitting at the waist, the straight skirt stopping just below her knees. She was clutching a small handbag that was suspended from her shoulder by a thin strap. She stood at the curb and the sun fell full on her. She lifted her arm to shield her face from the glare, then looked up at the building again.

    He took one step back, then stepped forward when she dropped her arm to her side. They were dancing together, separated by the width of the street and his station high above her. What drew him back to his intense observation of her? She seemed a pretty young thing, but he encountered many such in the course of his days, and his nights …

    Last night was a night like many others that he spent at the hotel bar, nursing a scotch and soda, many miles away from his wife and children.


    There was loud music from the amateur piano player, and the sound of many voices, one rising above the other. There was a woman sitting on the stool next to him at the bar. She was the hotel’s chanteuse, attractive in a slightly hardened way, her blue eyes lined in black, her hair lacquered in place, her legs—shapely in black fishnet stockings—crossed so that he could look at them as easily as he looked at her face. She was not a hooker. He was adept at spotting, and avoiding, hookers. She was a housewife stealing an evening away from all that was stultifying in her life, as eager to talk as to attract.

    He was polite but detached. He had a strict hands-off policy, scrupulously observed. He allowed, but did not act upon, her obvious enticement.

    My kids, they’re doing their own thing, she said, puffing on a cigarette, sipping her daiquiri. They haven’t needed me for years. What the fuck can I do for an eighteen- and a twenty-year-old?

    She stopped, bit her lip, then continued.

    "Me and my old man, we got married right out of high school. Right out of high school, she repeated, giggling. Got a little carried away that spring before graduation."

    She sighed, puffed, sipped.

    Anyways, I still got a few years before I hit forty, and people say I’ve got a good singing voice, so I took my pal Otto up on his offer to sing here a couple nights a week.

    She gestured toward the man who sat at the piano, banging out a tune, as she crushed out her cigarette, reached for another from the pack in front of her.

    He lit the fresh cigarette she held to her lips.

    She said, blowing out smoke, ruffling her hair, Christ, that last set is always the hardest. People too drunk to pay me any mind. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing.

    He wondered if she had ever been embarrassed.

    She looked directly at him, then; he saw the invitation in her eyes.

    It meant a lot to me to have you here, listening to me, really listening.

    He nodded, waiting.

    She said, Are you staying here at the hotel?

    He nodded again.

    She tilted her head slightly, so that she was looking up at him with blue eyes lined in black above and below.

    You don’t say much, do you?


    The young woman still stood at the curb. She put her hand up to her hair, settling it as a small puff of wind skirted close to the ground, lifting stray bits of paper and other debris along the street. She looked to left and right, as though hoping for some movement of traffic to delay her, but the street was quiet.

    She stepped off the curb and onto the street.

    She could be no more than eighteen or nineteen if she had recently graduated from high school—not that many years older than June, his daughter. He watched her crossing the street, looking left and right himself, feeling protective toward one so young and vulnerable, like June.

    Not that June would ever admit to being vulnerable. She was a plucky, independent being—always had been, even as a little sprout. Now twelve, she seemed determined to go her own way, be her own person, without regard for him—she who, not that long ago, would run to him when he came home, rushing to meet him as he got out of the car, so eager was she to share all of the events of her day with him. So eager and now—so silent.

    He watched the young woman as she crossed the street, both he and she glancing to left and right as the traffic lights at either end of the long block changed, cars moving toward her from both directions. She was not at a crosswalk. She was crossing at the point closest to the building he was in. She seemed suddenly aware of the traffic coming toward her. After her long hesitation, she plunged ahead. He clenched his fists, feeling helpless, for how could he protect her?

    The protective instinct was strong in him, had always been, toward those for whom he felt responsible—and somehow he felt responsible for this young woman he had yet to meet, who was crossing the street between oncoming traffic, looking straight ahead now as if, having made her decision, the danger did not exist, or she would not acknowledge it.

    Only when she moved between two parked cars did he realize that he had been holding his breath. He exhaled. The oncoming traffic rushed in both directions just behind her.

    How closely danger shadowed us, always there, just beyond us. He clenched his fists again, hating the feeling of helpless rage toward that which he could not control. He had felt it first, relentlessly, during the war; then, when his parents died, one after the other; now, whenever he felt a threat against his family.

    May and June. His fists loosened. He thought, with affection, of his wife, his daughter, and the whimsy that had caused him to insist on their calling their small pink daughter June.

    If we have another, is she to be ‘July’? said his wife, teasing him.

    But there had been no other, May became increasingly depressed, and two years ago they had begun the slow, agonizing process of adoption …

    Twin boys. Five years old. Shuffled around to foster homes. The mother dead from a combination of drug and alcohol poisoning. The boys—it was too soon to know—perhaps damaged by her addictions, then by their long ordeal in foster homes. Fraternal twins. Joe and Harry. Joseph and Harold. The need to keep them safe from harm, safe from the possibility of any further damage to their young selves, brought moisture to his eyes, which he blinked away as the young woman, who had paused between the cars parked below him, moved to the curb and out of his range of vision.

    He sat down at his desk, his back to the window, waiting for her to be shown into his office. With a gesture that was as automatic as breathing, he pulled a cigarette from the pack on his desk, flicked the lighter that was always beside it, touched the flame to the cigarette as he brought it to his mouth, inhaling smoke and a whiff of butane. He held the smoke in his lungs just long enough to feel its jolting, relaxing effect before he released it into the air. He drummed on his desk with the fingers of his left hand. After a final resounding thud, he sat back in his high-backed chair, puffed at his cigarette, watched the smoke drift lazily up toward the ceiling as he exhaled.

    Always, he relied on his instincts, and his instincts were usually right. They had guided him through the war; they had needled him as he learned the business of his life; they had pinged and buzzed and shrieked along the path of his relationships. They were roused now, on alert, with a kind of stinging consciousness that reminded him of being in a snow-bedazzled Belgian forest sixteen years ago, with a rifle poised in his arms, and the eerie certainty of being watched.

    He smoked his cigarette, squinting slightly as he looked at the closed door of his office. He knew that when that door opened his life would change, perhaps profoundly. He knew this as certainly as he knew, at the Bulge, that the bullet from the unseen watcher would pierce his flesh before he could return fire. He did fire, straight and true to the source of the bullet, before he sank to his knees in the brittle leaves muddied by many boots. He pitched forward, the ground surprisingly giving, the sound between a groan and a sigh seeming to his ears as loud as the rifle shots as he heard himself say, That’s me. Goddammit, that’s me.

    In that moment, in his twentieth year, what he felt was more than shock, more than the pain that soon set in—it was his vulnerability. He had felt it before, but only as a child and only on one other occasion, at the Camp …

    Abruptly, he sat up in his chair, stamped out his cigarette, squeezed the numbness in his left thigh, where the bullet had entered his body, reached for the stack of papers on his desk. He scanned through three letters and signed them, willing the images starting to form in his head to blur, then vanish.

    There was a rap on the door.

    He said, irritably, Yes. Come.

    Yvonne, his office manager, poked her head in.

    Someone from the employment agency to see you. Says she has an appointment.

    So she does. Show her in.

    Yvonne’s head disappeared as the door closed, soundlessly. He smiled and shook his head as he pushed the signed letters to the front edge of his desk. Yvonne was efficient but pushy, suspicious: Everybody on staff was out to get him. Every client was determined to screw him. Every phone call was a veiled threat. Every stranger who climbed the stairs to see him was danger incarnate. He thought of the young woman in the sky-blue suit sitting in the small reception area facing Yvonne’s desk, waiting for her brisk, unwelcoming, Come with me, then following her down the corridor to his office, last door on the right, where now little more than a closed door and a few moments of time separated them.

    He looked around the room at the two straight chairs across from him, at the tan carpet and the beige walls, at the big calendar, slightly crooked, on the opposite wall, at the black vinyl couch and two armchairs facing each other across a coffee table—an arrangement he insisted on to make visitors feel more relaxed, to make them more inclined to buy what he had to sell. He looked at the framed picture over the couch, also slightly crooked, a tinted photograph of Main Street, Longview, Ohio, fifty years ago—the building he occupied gleaming in its newness. Rather a cold, comfortless office, despite its couch and armchairs. Nothing personal in its attire, not even a family photograph on his desk …

    But it was deliberate, he told himself. He preferred it that way. He could walk away at any time, leave no imprint of himself behind, nothing that could be used against him, no strings of memory or affection or ownership that might make it harder for him to erase his tracks. Better that way. Hard enough to have a home and a family that were always needing him, wanting him, waiting for him.

    He thought of the swimming pool he had put in when he knew the boys were coming home, how May had fussed and fretted at the dirt, the expense. But Joe and Harry—at first so timid and unresponsive—the look on their faces when they saw it, how they rushed to their room for the swim trunks laid out for them, then jumped into the pool, May gasping, then laughing as they bobbed up, June stepping carefully into the shallow end, aloof and disdainful until the twins upended her. She came to the surface kicking and furious—then became a child again, as loud and raucous as the twins.

    They were waiting for him now, and he was waiting for—her.


    Yvonne rapped once, her warning signal, then opened the door, stepping into the office. She stood, ramrod straight, disapproving, with her back to the door.

    Miss Lowin—to see you.

    The young woman in the sky-blue suit walked in as Yvonne walked out, closing the door behind her.

    He stood up.

    Margaret—is it?

    She nodded, then said, Maggie.

    He said, with satisfaction, Maggie, adding, I’m Pete Cameron, then motioned for her to sit across from him.

    She sat down, uneasily, like a bird testing a branch. He sat facing her, only the width of his desk separating them.

    He said, Please, make yourself comfortable.

    She adjusted herself minutely as she perched on the edge of the chair.

    She was lovely, fresh, and new. He felt a constriction in his chest. How could she, so unknown to him, so move him?

    By the way, he said, you can relax. You’re hired.

    She blushed, then ducked her head to hide the blush.

    If you insist, however, I’ll ask you a few questions.

    She smiled, then looked across at him. He could see her eyes now. They were a light honey color, almost the color of her hair. Their paleness affected him strangely, as though they were translucent and he was looking through them, into her soul. He was aware, again, of a constriction in his chest, which might be signaling pain, or joy.

    How old are you, Maggie?


    There it was, the hard fact, hitting him like a fast uppercut to the chin. He turned his head as if to deflect the blow.

    Am I too young?

    He turned back. She was still looking at him with those pale honey-colored eyes.

    Am I too young for the job?

    He reached for a cigarette and lit up, inhaling, then exhaling, with slow deliberation. Of course, he had a choice. She had given him an opening. He had only to say, Yes.


    She seemed puzzled by his response.

    He realized that he was frowning, that his voice had been gruff. He leaned forward to flick the ash off his cigarette. It landed just outside the large glass ashtray on his desk.

    "Hell, no, he said. Yvonne couldn’t order you around if you were much older. She likes the help to be young and tender."

    Will I be working for Yvonne?

    No, Miss Maggie, you’ll be working for me.

    She looked down, but the corners of her mouth turned up.

    I’m a tough boss, he said, wanting her to look at him, which she did. Nine to five every day, except weekends. No more than two hours for lunch. No sleeping on the job. Whistling in the hallways not permitted. Gum chewing fined at half your week’s wages.

    He paused.

    Can you type?

    She nodded.

    Take dictation?


    Better and better. Here.

    He pushed a pad of paper and a pencil across to her.

    Take a memo.

    She picked up the pencil, holding it poised above the pad of paper. For the first time, he saw her eyes gleam expectantly, as if ready for him.

    Notice to the crew, he began, leaning back, puffing on his cigarette. Miss Maggie Lowin will be joining our radio broadcasting team as of tomorrow morning.

    He paused, lifting his eyebrows questioningly. She nodded.

    She will join the crew as traffic manager, in charge of logging in and scheduling spots—commercials—keeping broadcast binders up-to-date, making sure everything that is scheduled goes on the air; everything that goes on the air is in order and in sync with the programming. She’ll also make sure that broadcast sponsors are not scheduled back-to-back with their competitors, and that PSAs—public service announcements—are aired as scheduled so we don’t get in trouble with the FCC. In other words, she’ll be the detail person—the person paying attention to everything that goes on the air—as well as the person who gets the blame if anything goes wrong. If she has time to spare, she’ll assist Yvonne with such tasks as billing and answering the phone.

    He paused, cocked an eyebrow. She nodded again, this time a little uncertainly.

    Miss Maggie will be an asset to our organization. She is skilled, intelligent, and attractive, all of which qualities are, as you know, requisite qualifications for employment at this radio station—with the obvious exception of Yvonne.

    The look of intense concentration faded, but she continued writing.

    When he said, Read that back to me, she did.

    Well done, Miss Maggie. Just turn that over to Yvonne on your way out and ask her to make a dozen copies.

    She tore the paper from the pad, then stood up.

    Thank you, Mr. Cameron.

    He stood up, holding his hand out to her.

    Welcome aboard.

    She put her hand in his. They clasped hands as two or three seconds ticked by. Then she withdrew her hand, settled the strap of her purse on her shoulder, turned to go.

    He watched her cross the room, open the door, and close it noiselessly behind her. Then he sat down, gripping the edge of his desk.

    Jesus Christ, he said, softly.

    He fished for another cigarette, lit up, then returned to his station at the window. When she did not reappear on the street, he buzzed Yvonne.

    Our new girl still around?

    No. She said she’d be starting tomorrow.

    Right. Did she leave anything with you?

    No. Should she have?

    Nope. Thanks, Yvonne.

    He felt foolish, elated. He walked back to the window, looking up and down the street. There was no sign of her.

    He listened to himself as he said, as though she were still in the room, You come back, Miss Maggie, you hear me?

    He pushed open the window, leaning out, letting the warm air and the traffic sounds wash over him. Then he repeated, like an incantation, You hear me, Miss Maggie? You come back.



    He woke up in pain. The room

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