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Date Posted: 15:17:14 04/02/11 Sat
Author: Debi
Subject: Book blurb, short and sweet
In reply to: Esther 's message, "HOMEWORK" on 13:44:16 03/14/11 Mon

Work and school has kept me busy and I'll soon post a revision to my class assignment, but I didn't want to miss this homework, since it ties in with my promise to myself to start taking steps toward submitting Old Dogs for consideration somewhere. So, without further ado, the back-of-the-cover bit for Old Dogs (or whatever it ends up being named)

Home is where when you go back, they have to take you in, right?

Valerie Roark is finding out, returning to her childhood home to lick her wounds after a bitter divorce. Her family awaits, with open, interfering arms, but they mean well. When said interference includes introducing her to the next door neighbor and making sure they have every opportunity to get to know one another, Valerie is suspicious, not sure if she ever wants another relationship.

But she could use a friend.

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[> [> And the rewrite on my class story... -- Debi, 13:09:56 04/04/11 Mon

The new and improved version.


Momma died early Saturday morning, after a long day and night of trying to birth a child much too big for her little body. The baby needed a name and I had to do it, since Daddy was nowhere to be found. I called him Caleb, since he was going on ahead of us to the Promised Land, even though it’s not quite the same as in the Bible story. I’d had to be midwife for her; I’d done it before and we didn’t have money for a doctor, not that there was one closer than fifty miles. I’m not sure a doctor could have saved her anyhow. I’ve never seen so much blood in all my days. It looked like a hog-killing.

The sun was hardly up but it shone bright through the open front door, straight through to the back of the house. I had opened all the windows too, the drawers on the chiffarobe, and turned Daddy’s shaving glass to the wall. Momma’s spirit didn’t need to linger and feel any more hurt; the good Lord knows she’d seen enough of it in this world. I was still okay until I turned back to where she lay on the bed, sheets soaked with blood and birth. All of a sudden there wasn’t any air to breathe and I stumbled back until I hit the wall and slid down, both lips clamped between my teeth to stifle to wail that was threatening to come out. My brothers and sisters were already scared with all the commotion that had been going on. For a minute I thought a high wind was shaking the little shotgun house until I figured out it was just me.

Daddy came a-roaring into the house not long after she’d passed, reeking of ‘shine and hollering for her to come show him his newest son. I heard him coming and got up quick to meet him in the front room before he busted on into his and Momma’s room. I was bloody to my elbows, carrying the bundle that held little Caleb. Not a word did I say, just pushed the clump of sheets at him. He stared down at the tiny blue face for a minute, then laid him back in my arms, real gentle. His eyes wandered toward the bedroom door then back to me, taking in the blood staining my hands and apron, a question in his eyes. I shook my head. He reached for the mantel, opened the face of Grandma’s clock ticking there and touched the pendulum to stop it. I turned away to go back to Momma, then I heard his steps going out the front door, slow and heavy. I washed my shaking hands as best I could since the wash basin was almost empty. I went through the door into the kitchen, heading for the well.

Ben and Brenda were huddled together at the table by the woodstove in the kitchen, all big-eyed and quiet. I reckon all of Momma’s screaming had scared them, though they weren’t old enough to understand much of what was going on. I had given them some cold biscuits and the last of our cane syrup to keep them out from underfoot, not having had the chance to soothe them like I would any other time. Aggie was outside feeding the chickens and crying; I could hear her sniffles. Martin, the next oldest behind me, was out gathering what was ready from the garden. Nobody had gotten much sleep and we still had to eat.

I don’t know how anyone found out; maybe Daddy said something to somebody ‘cause directly folks started showing up.

“Hello the house! Miriam?!”

“Please come in, Miss Holloway.” Of course the old biddy’d be the first to show up. Chances were good folks in Raleigh, a couple hundred miles away, already knew Momma was dead. If she could, Momma would probably laugh, not the least bit surprised that Carolee Holloway was the first to turn up. I really just wanted to be left alone.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Miss Holloway grabbed me and hugged me to her. I let her for a second, then pulled away.

“I need to keep cleaning up.”

“Let me help you!” She followed me into the bedroom and gagged. I knew she would. She backed up like a balky mule, then rushed through to the kitchen. “I’ll just go keep an eye on the young’uns.”

“I appreciate that.” I heard her cooing to the twins, probably eating their biscuits too. In a little while I heard Jimmy’s voice at the door.

“Miriam!”

Jimmy was my beau and not a sweeter boy you’d ever meet.
He must have come straight from plowing and ran the whole way up the glen. When he found me he was still winded. By this time I had gotten the bloody sheets bundled up and Momma decently covered with a clean one, the baby washed and swaddled at her side.

“Miri, I’m so sorry.” When he held his arms out, I wanted him to hold me, but I cut my eyes at the door to the kitchen. Miss Holloway, for all her claiming to be a good Christian, would start a rumor in a heartbeat that me and Jimmy were sparking right in front of my dead mother. I took his hands and he squeezed.

“What can I do to help?”

I stopped to think. It wasn’t fitting that he help me wash and dress her, but he could help all the same. “See if you can find my daddy and ask him to make a box for her and dig a grave.”

He grimaced. “I’ll do my best.”

I managed a smile. “And if not, I reckon I’ll do it, just like everything else around here.” He gripped my hand one more time to comfort me and took off.

Jimmy came back in just a little while with some pine boards he got from somewhere and directly I heard hammering in the yard. I left the windows open but shut the doors to the bedroom while I washed Momma. The sun shone and a warm breeze blew through, lifting the curtains. It didn’t seem right for the day to be so pretty.

Lots of other folks showed up, coming to the back door, most of them with whatever food they could spare. Somebody made sure my brothers and sisters were fed and a couple of the men went out to help Jimmy. Mrs. Abernathy, the preacher’s wife, came and brought me a jug of clean water and took away the ruined sheets, all without asking. For that I was grateful. She helped me get Momma turned over so I could finish washing her. The preacher’s wife didn’t say much, just helped me do what needed to be done and in the quiet I was able to turn my mind off. I felt like I was going to explode or blow away; I couldn’t tell which one. If I thought about what all had happened too much, I’d never be able to finish. Once she was clean I was able to get Momma dressed.

“This one?” Mrs. Abernathy asked, holding up Momma’s best dress. It was her wedding dress.

“No ma’am.” I didn’t want her buried in that. Being married to my Daddy wasn’t anything to be proud of, though Momma always did the best she could. I reached in the chiffarobe and got out my Sunday dress. “This one.”

I think Mrs. Abernathy knew it as mine; she gave me a funny look but didn’t say anything else while we finished. I had planned to wear it when me and Jimmy got married. A lot of eggs and wild honey had been traded for the cloth and Momma said the blue went with my eyes. I wished I had hers; green as grass, instead of Daddy’s eyes, the same color as the sky he was always staring off into.

Where was that man? It wasn’t decent, him off doing what the Good Lord alone knew what and his wife laying dead. He was probably at the still, drunk as Cooter Brown. Times were hard and folks tell of good money to be made from selling moonshine, but we never saw any of it. I don’t think there was ever enough left to sell after Daddy and his buddies were done drinking.

Just before dark, as I was lighting the lanterns, they brought the coffin into the front room. Jimmy brought the kitchen chairs in and faced them together in pairs; we set the coffin on them and laid Momma inside, tucking the baby into her arms. When I let go, my hands were shaking. Jimmy stepped close behind me, lacing his fingers with mine.

“I’ll dig a grave at first light. It’s bad luck to leave one open all night.”

I nodded, leaning into his shoulder, tired to my bones.

There was still a long night ahead of me. Jimmy shooed Miss Holloway out of the only chair we had with cushions on it and brought it close to the casket for me, standing beside it. I think it was the first time I sat down since I slid down the wall that morning. I still hadn’t quite got my head around the notion that Momma was gone; I was still too mad at Daddy for not being there, for being a drunk layabout, for getting her in a fix again, after so many babies had been lost. If all of us had lived, that house would have busted wide open.

After a while, Brenda wandered over and climbed into my lap. I wrapped my arms around her and rocked, and it soothed us both. Folks seemed to forget I was there and I heard little bits and pieces of what they were saying.

“—not surprised, she was wore plumb to a frazzle with them young’uns and Mal never home.”

“—poor brave girl, not a tear shed—“

“—Miriam’s only seventeen and now got all them young’uns, what’s gonna happen—“

I shut it all out, just staring at Momma’s pale face over the edge of the pine box. By the time she was my age, she was already married and I had been born. As for what would happen to us, I didn’t know. Honestly, I just figured we’d keep on like we had been. It was us young’uns what took care of the farming: chickens, a couple of mules, a cow; Martin plowed, and I was the one what always planted and tended the kitchen garden. Whatever happened, I’d figure out something.

A hand touched my arm; it was the preacher’s wife. “Miriam, you’re all done in. I’ll sit up with her and the baby.”

I shook my head. “You’re welcome to sit up too, Miz Abernathy, but I’m staying here.”

The crowd thinned as the night wore on; pretty soon it was just me and Mrs. Abernathy, with Jimmy asleep, propped in the corner. The neighbors would be back in the morning; it was Sunday and they were going to church anyway, besides, plenty of them were probably hoping for a meal and a show. With Daddy, chances were better than average there’d be a show fit to beat that Mr. Ringling fellow’s circus.

Jimmy got up before dawn to go dig the grave. I was so thankful he’d been around, doing the things Daddy should have done. I’m sure the rumors were already starting to fly about me and Jimmy but I didn’t care. It wasn’t a secret that we were sweethearts. Momma had liked him and Daddy was indifferent, not that I cared a fig what that old drunk thought.

About midday, Jimmy was back and I sent Martin out to hitch up the mule. We carried the coffin out the front door, put it in the back of the wagon and followed it up the glen to the cemetery behind the church. Martin and Aggie picked wildflowers on the way.

Daddy was there, waiting by the open grave, just like he was the one what dug it. I stared at him but he just stood there: collar open, dirt on his britches and swaying on his feet like a tree in a high wind. I know some folks take on and grieve in different ways but it made me sick and ashamed to be his child, to see him so drunk he couldn’t stand straight, at his own wife’s funeral and on the Lord’s Day to boot. Reverend Abernathy looked back and forth between us for a minute, then got down to business. He said some words, Martin stood next to me and held my hand; Aggie and the twins cried a little. We all threw a handful of dirt into the hole. The clods made a hollow sound as they hit the pine box, like we were burying an empty casket. I took it to mean that the Good Lord had done taken her and my littlest brother Caleb on home with Him.

We went back to the house, with most of the folks coming on with us. I wanted to run off the lot of them; all I wanted was to be left alone, so I could sort things out and cry, but Daddy had decided to take his place in our home for once. I wasn’t about to start in with him in front of everybody. I’d have my time later to raise the devil with him; for now, in the sight of my neighbors, I had to be strong for my family.

Some of the good Baptist ladies had stayed behind and set up all the food. Our family was first to get our plates then the rest of the bunch got something to eat, all wandering to find places to sit. I could hear Daddy’s voice coming from the back porch, talking to some of his drinking buddies. I tried to ignore him. Food was the last thing I wanted so I put my plate down and pulled Ben into my lap. He was plenty old enough to feed himself, but it was soothing to have something to do. After I got all the food in him that I was going to, I put him down and got up to take the dish to the kitchen.

“Here, sweetie, I’ll take that.” Mrs. Abernathy took it from me. “Why don’t you sit back down and rest? We’ll take care of the dishes and such. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

I stood there in the kitchen for a minute, not sure what to do with myself. As long as I had a task I’d be okay; I could stay quiet and settled and Momma wouldn’t be gone quite yet.

“Sing us a song, girl.” Looked like Daddy wanted me to do something.

Now, folks always asked me to sing, at weddings, at funerals. Any time there was a gathering in the hollow eventually somebody would ask. I usually didn’t mind; I like to do it and was proud to make somebody happy or soothe their sorrow. Momma taught me that. Momma always sang at her chores and I was lucky enough that she passed the love of music and a good voice on to me. But today, there wasn’t nobody happy, and singing was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt as old as Methuselah. This day, no matter how hard I sang, the one person I really wanted to hear me was gone.

I went from tired and confused to so mad I could spit and I was so worn-out I’d already forgotten about not wanting to get wound up in front of everybody. I could feel my face get hot and my back stiffened. Daddy called me girl, like he didn’t even know his oldest child’s name.

I took a breath and was about to give him the sharp side of my tongue for everything I could think of when I felt a soft touch on my hand, just for a second. It was Jimmy. He gave me a gentle look that seemed to tell me that nothing Daddy said or did could hurt me, everything was going to be all right, that he was there for me, all that with just a quick flash of a smile. He glanced from me back to Daddy and I turned to look. Then I saw him, really got a good look at him for the first time, not as a child sees their father, but as if I had never laid eyes on the man before in my life.

He stood in the back door, like he wasn’t sure if he should come all the way in, the afternoon sun slanting behind turning him into a dark, faceless shadow. What I took to be drunkenness earlier, at second glance looked more like somebody who got the breath knocked out of them and didn’t see it coming. His eyes, the color of a clear summer sky, the same color as mine, were wide and staring, like a spooked deer. His rolled-back cuffs were dirty and his hands were all blistered and cut up.

“It was him what dug your momma’s grave, not me. I found him there this morning about half done.” Jimmy leaned his head close so I could hear his voice over the soft murmur of conversation in the house.

“I took his pistol away from him too.”

I felt my heart thump, stutter, and commence to beating again, this time wild, fluttering against my ribs like a bird in a cage. As much as the man was a bundle of bad habits and a burden most times, he was hurt too, nigh on to wanting to die himself over Momma’s passing. I took a deep breath, surprised at how I felt. I was glad that I wasn’t burying him today too. I looked back at Daddy and nodded. He took another step, all the way into the room.

“What song would you like to hear, Daddy?”

“You pick something.” His voice was quiet, like there was just the two of us. There might as well have been; everyone had stopped talking and were watching us. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and sang.

The words didn’t matter. All the grief, all the hurt I had kept bound up inside came pouring out of me. My heart pumped my fear up and out my mouth into the song and let it go. I wasn’t in the kitchen anymore; I was rising, sailing through the roof to look down on that little shack. I couldn’t see her, but I knew Momma was there, listening, nodding along like she always did. With my song, I told her I was sorry and I missed her but there were no words that could really tell her how I felt. I don’t think any words can do that. It has to come out in the singing itself, and I was doing my best to let her know how much it hurt to let her go.

I could feel hot tears running down my face but I kept my eyes closed, not wanting to lose that touch of Momma’s presence. I don’t even know what my voice sounded like; it could have sounded like a tree full of crows for all I knew, but I’m pretty sure Momma was smiling.

When I opened my eyes again, Daddy was too.

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[> [> [> I'll just answer for the both here >>> -- Esther, 03:33:31 04/18/11 Mon

First, I like this version. It flows well from start to finish, and the finish leaves me, as the reader, with a sense that although they have a lot to work out and have to deal with their grief, at least they have the knowledge that the other will be there for them in their own way.

Second,the blurb. There's enough there to sharpen my interest, with the thoughts of the possible interference, and of course I'm a sucker for any thing even remotely relating to the chance of a hard won fight for a happy ending. And that's the feeling I get.

Excellent.

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