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On a regular basis, Melanie, Susan, Dagmar and I will post excerpts from our novels and memoirs in progress. These are meant to whet your appetite and increase visibility for our work.

The excerpts will be chronological, typically one paragraph per chapter.

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Excerpts from Second Chapters

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Melanie’s Excerpt

from Chapter Two

©2016 Melanie Light

Ben’s lacrosse coach called to say that it looked like Ben might have fractured his back at the tournament. Rita’s blood ran cold and her hand tightened on the phone as a thousand thoughts ran through her head, and his well-being was not in the first three. Number one was, “What is this going to cost us?” Number two, “A break from work,” and number three was, “Should I bother to cook dinner?” What she said was, “Is Ben OK?” Obviously not. Then, “Where is he? What happened? Can I talk to him?” He was at the university medical center where his coach had brought him. Anger pushed up. The other boys were OK, but one might have broken his nose. She had quietly observed to herself that Ben always seemed to have an ambivalent attitude toward sports. Very good, bordering on gifted in any sport he tried, but Rita felt that he played sports because he had to in order to measure up. Consequently, she intuited that he would be a bit too disengaged and left himself open for injury. She was hoping he would let go of competitive sports as he moved on to college. If this injury was serious at all, he wouldn’t be able to play at this level any more. She wouldn’t let him.

Rita went into crisis management mode and before she knew it she and Frank were sitting in front of the computer booking a flight for her to Baltimore, preparing to be with Ben by morning when he got an MRI and the consulting orthopedist would be there. This was a familiar rhythm for them. Since they walked out of the hospital with two babies they had formed a SWAT unit to rival New York’s finest.

She went to pack and shoot emails off to work, to assorted family and friends, while Frank paid for the ticket and tried to contact the attending doctor.  She touched base with Ben, who voice sounded groggy and plaintive. It gave her packing an urgency. Frank did get their own doctor. “Dr. Singh says that the ortho at Hopkins is great; no problem so don’t worry.” Frank leaned against their bedroom door, phone dangling at his side. The lines which used to look like laugh lines now seemed to pull down through his shoulders, his arms and legs and right on down into the earth. She pushed the suitcase cover down and stood still. It all came to her in a rush. She wasn’t the only one who could use some tenderness. When was the last time they had shared a tender moment? Could they now? Because what lay between the bed and the doorway was a lot of distance. Rita pulled the zipper around and gave Frank a rueful look. She sighed. He was a good person. “Ben will be OK. Promise. But this is the end of his lacrosse career. Will you call Cary? She’ll want to hear from one of us.” Her voice had lost the hard edge of executive functioning and dropped into its natural warm timbre. He looked up and nodded. He looked at the phone in his hand and back at her. Too much distance for him, too.

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Inez’s Excerpt

from Chapter Two: Aftermath

©2016 Inez Hollander

There had never even been a murder on campus, as far as Eva knew. yes, there was the occasional suicide, with graduate students and undergrads jumping off of Alwyn Hall, the highest building on campus after the clock tower, which had a suicide guard. Eva looked at the American flag that moved pathetically on this hot day with barely a gust of wind. Now it was more or less entangled with the state flag and this slow twisting and turning of the fabric somehow seemed symbolic of the state of turmoil the campus was in. The next thing Eva felt was the impact of bumping into Professor Schmetterling who dropped the stack of books he was carrying under one of his long arms. They always reminded her of monkey arms.

     “Jesus, woman!” he said irritated.

     On edge, with her nerves so taut that Eva felt like they might snap, she apologized, and started picking up the books. Never mind the “woman” slam. The air felt suffocating, the mosquitoes were buzzing in her ears and Eva felt droplets of perspiration rolling down her back.

     “I’m so sorry, Jürgen— it has been a bear of a morning… such a tragedy… at the library… in the Reading Room of all places…”

Schmetterling was now also stooping down, picking up books. Professor Schmetterling’s field was Cultural Studies with an emphasis on transgender issues. He had written a dense but academically acclaimed book on crossdressing and early transgenderism in the nineteenth century among the Aboriginals in the Northern Territory of Australia.

     “Really?! I was wondering what all those people were doing by the library.” Schmetterling was considered a handsome man, but he was a touch effeminate and had a soft, slightly high-pitched and nasal voice. When he spoke, he did so deliberately and slowly, in a strange monotone that put entire lecture halls to sleep. Apparently, he was also very “tactile”. There were numerous stories of him groping students but Eva had never witnessed anything of the sort with him herself. Must have been campus gossip.

      “You haven’t heard?! You didn’t get any campus texts? Or seen the emails?”

      “Heard what?”

      “I mean this kind of news tends to travel fast.”

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Dagmar’s Excerpt

from Chapter Two

©2016 Dagmar Theison

When she saw one of Kasta’s branches outside the window waving at her she relaxed and the feeling of loneliness left her body; the tree would watch over her.

“Just remember” Kasta said, “don’t stop breathing, breathe in and out, keep your body soft, don’t clench your teeth, you already broke a tooth that way, and don’t make a fist.” It was harder than she thought, but over time she got better at it and did as Kasta told her; this way she would barely feel the coat hanger and it only would hurt a little bit. 

Sister Theresia was waiting with the coat hanger in her hand. Obediently Sabine bent over her bed to get it over with, hoping that the beating for a blond doll – she really didn’t throw the doll out of the window –  was enough and wasn’t followed by prayers in the chapel, and that she was allowed some dinner tonight.

” … and what do you say?” Sister Theresia demanded of her, still holding the coat hanger in her hand.

“Thank you, Sister Theresia.” Sabine mumbled, wiping off a few tears she couldn’t prevent from rolling down her face.

“It’s Mama Theresia, how often shall I tell you that I’m your mama?”

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“Did you call her mama?” asked Kasta.

“No, I didn’t,” Sabine said, “and I’m hungry.”

“Hm, so you won’t have dinner tonight.”

“No, and I have to say three rosaries,” she said. Then with a sigh she added: “But I don’t have to go to the chapel, I can do it here.”

“Didn’t I tell you that when you cross your fingers behind your back everything you say doesn’t count?”

“Yes, but God can see it, he sees everything. The nun says she is my mama and God my father.” Sabine whispered.

After a moment of silence the tree said: “Hm, I just talked with Stana. Even though he is much younger than I am he knows a lot about God stuff. After all, he stands right next to the chapel for more than thirty years. He says he never saw God.”

“Is that true?” Sabine asked.

“Trees don’t lie.” Kasta said, “Stana said that God might be really busy and doesn’t have time to look at everything. He also said that for a very long time now none of the trees had ever seen a God, only people.”

Sabine felt at a loss. No God, she thought, as she was watching the goose bumps appearing on her skin. She needed to think about it more carefully, but first the three rosaries.

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from Chapter Two

©2016 Susan Hamilton

It’s difficult to take over an aging parent’s life. The system is designed to protect the elderly from unscrupulous children.  Fortunate for them but brutal for trustworthy children trying to care of a Mom long distance. There were sixteen cross-country trips over the final two years discovering burns, filth, exploded tea pots, unhealthy mold and overflowing toilets. My mother became a recluse from dementia. We’ve tried every form of help imaginable but there were locked or unanswered front doors, irregular sleep patterns and especially paranoia, keeping any local support out.

Labor Day Monday dawns warm and sunny. After extensive research by my sister and I, a bed is waiting in the geriatric psych ward at a local hospital to evaluate her. I have to get her there.

I arrive to find her dirty and smoking, surrounded by burn marks on the carpet below her favorite chair. As in previous visits, I swing into action to clean so I can sleep there and monitor her overnight. I’ve given up on bathing her, especially today, as I know it will agitate her. But I vacuum, wash floors, counters, sinks, oven and throw in some laundry. Calming her as her anger builds, I make her laugh to distract her.

“Hey Mom. Know what Claire said to me this morning? She asked how many more darks until she can go to the dance? Remember when she used to count the days by darks when she was still napping? ” Mom chuckles at the memory on the couch as I continue to clean.

Sifting through piles of unopened mail, I tell stories while I wait for Drano to do its magic in the kitchen sink. I call my husband, describe her current condition and ask him to jump on a red eye to help me. He hears the lump in my throat and scrambles, finds an overnight babysitter and arrives bleary eyed at 7am.

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Excerpts from First Chapters

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Susan’s Excerpt

from Chapter One: It’s Time to Go

©2016 Susan Hamilton

It was time. All the pieces were in place. Power of Attorney. Check. Health Care Directive. Check. Voluntary conservatorship. Check….but voluntary? Her look was of complete trust in me when she signed those papers on a long, old wooden table in a homey court room, an old school house where we made her comfortable. I was fearful and tense, hoping to avoid an outburst, another ugly scene like in the grocery store or bank. But that was when she still went out. Now the outbursts happened in the bathroom or on the couch, arms flailing and teeth gritted. But that conservatorship day she checked all the boxes, answered all the questions calmly and signed on the the dotted line, her life, to me.
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Melanie’s Excerpt

from Chapter One

©2016 Melanie Light

Everywhere she looked to find it there was no tenderness to be found. There had been no tenderness during the whole time she was raising the twins beyond the cozy nest of their home. There was a lot of heartiness and hale-ness; a lot of competitive side-looks and sly comments. There were committees to bring lasagna to a family’s home when tragedy struck, but even then, no true tenderness passed between the Helping Hands neighbor as she reached out to give the casserole dish to the family coping with cancer, or death. There were faces of concern, supportive smiles and extensions of good wishes. But no real tenderness. What would have it been like if the helping hands had put the casserole on the porch and, instead, reached out to embrace the shoulders drawn tight and what if the helping hands had rocked those shoulders and allowed the tears to fall until there were no more?

And there was no tenderness at the end of a hard day. Rita would come home, now quiet with the twins away and Frank still on BART. She moved unmoored through the house. Hesitantly, placing her bag by the front door. Maybe it should go somewhere else? Maybe she should go somewhere else? What to do? How to put herself back together after having delivered two reports, three meetings and reprimanded a lab tech for sloppy work? There was nothing to really do except pour a glass of wine and plop down in front of the TV, substituting a sort of deadness for soul food.

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Inez’s Excerpt

from Chapter One: A Rare Library Find

©2016 Inez Hollander

Eva closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of wisdom printed on pages and parchment, all stored in this beautiful building. She tried to hold onto that delicious feeling of book smells and quiet privacy before the Reading Room would be filled with the hustle and bustle of students and visiting scholars. Books were her friends and they never disappointed her or talked back. As she opened her eyes and walked towards some of the familiar stacks, her eye was caught by some papers that were strewn on the ground. Odd. As her eye traveled from the paper to the display case with the seventeenth-century Atlas Maior of which there were less than 1000 left in the world, a fact that had always filled her with personal and institutional pride, she thought she saw what looked like red paint. But when she walked closer, she gasped because it was blood, or rather a trail of blood, as if some animal of prey had dragged its dinner through the library. But even before this graphic visual was fully processed by her brain, her nose, which, moments before, had inhaled and savored the aromas associated with old paper and high culture, registered a scent of danger, coming from a whiff of blood which reminded her of that time in a woman’s period that the blood runs thick and dark: a scent both earthy and strong. She was trembling now, her instincts telling her to run, but instead, she pressed on, turned the corner, and nearly fainted.

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Dagmar’s Excerpt

from Chapter One: House of God

©2016 Dagmar Theison

Sabine looked down searching for a spot that wouldn’t hurt too much during the twenty Rosaries. The chapel’s floor was plain concrete and only on the right side was a narrow lane covered with rugs where the nuns would pray. Barbara didn’t do a good cleaning job, Sabine thought, when she spotted the now rusty looking stain her bleeding knees had left after fifteen Our Fathers a few days ago. She shivered; partly because of the damp and musty smelling cold, and partly because of the sharp pain she remembered that came with the fifteen Our Fathers. The twenty Rosaries were much longer. She pulled down her woolen underpants, closed her eyes, threw them in front of her, and with her eyes open again she walked toward them and slowly knelt down. It was a good throw; close to the Holy Virgin Mary who she could lean against when her body couldn’t stay in an upright kneeling position any longer. She took a deep breath filled with scents of chicken manure, incense and candle wax and let her fingers play with the wooden pearls of the Rosary.

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