Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Charlie's Girl", a novel by Mary-Helen & Daniel Foxx


The dusty, gray Ford swayed into the driveway of the bus station parking lot and jerked to a stop straddling the two remaining parking spaces. Muriel Dobson and her friend, Grace Matthews, sat and fanned themselves to help stir the meager breeze while they waited for the arrival of the 4:50 from Atlanta. On the back seat a chubby, red-haired boy lounged while he read comic books and noisily munched peanut brittle while his mother’s droning voice rose up on the hot air.
            “…So I told Mark William, I said, ‘You just come on along with me. Miz Matthews can use your help with the baggage, and it’ll keep you busy and out of trouble for the rest of the afternoon.’”
            The boy winced imperceptively at his mother’s words and wrinkled his freckled nose into a copper-colored blotch.
“My land! You never saw a boy that could find so much trouble to get into! My girls never gave me a minute’s bit of worry compared to this one! He’s a caution! I can’t wait for school to start up again, so I can get some peace of mind. I always did think those summer vacations were too long.”
            Mark William’s mother shifted under the steering wheel to stretch her huge legs out before her against the floorboard. She smoothed her skirt and looked across the seat at her friend who sat staring out the window. Enviously she considered the other woman’s appearance.
            Grace Matthews was at least ten years older than she, yet they seemed almost the same age. Grace hadn’t had an easy life, but it certainly didn’t show in her face, which had only softened with age. Her figure was just slightly thickened, but then she’d only had one child, not four as had Muriel.  Grace’s long hair, still more brown than gray, looked as though it had been professionally streaked down at Myra’s beauty shop. She wore it pinned up into a mound high on her head, but wisps of it escaped and tightly coiled themselves into little ringlets at the nape of her neck. She wore a trim-fitting green dress of her own making which heightened her quiet loveliness. Her eyes were a mystery-clouded hazel, from which even her simple, wire-rimmed eyeglasses could not detract.
            It didn’t seem fair, somehow, for a woman to look that good at her age.  The driver turned her gaze to her own huge lap before her, and compared herself to her friend.
Muriel was sixty-five pounds overweight and looked perpetually tired, her gray hair ill concealed with a thin rinse.  She looked much older than she really was. Her last child, that imp in the back seat who had come to her late in life after her other three children were all grown, was responsible for every last gray hair.
Perhaps she had been too old to have another child after her patience was all used up, and just when she could have been free to travel more with her husband, Luther, to all his furniture shows. The store was doing well then and they could have left things to run themselves long enough for a nice little vacation now and again. Maybe then things would have been different, she thought bitterly.
            The red-haired boy squirmed restlessly on the seat, his face dripping with perspiration. This unusual heat wave had held the small South Carolina piedmont town of Grayson in its grip for two long miserable weeks. Mark William longed to escape the car in search of a breeze.
Across the way old Will Perkins sat in his usual place, with his chair tipped back against the depot wall, and whittled away the time on a piece of poplar. The boy watched the shavings pile up on the ground until he could bear it no longer. He reached for the door handle as quietly as he could and eased the door open.
            “I’ve been in hot weather, but I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. They’ll probably call this the great heat wave of nineteen and sixty four.” Muriel complained, mopping her brow and neck with a handkerchief. Then catching a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye she said without breaking stride in her conversation, “Just where do you think you’re going, young man?” 
“I’m just gonna sit over there in the shade where I can watch for the bus, Mama. I won’t go no where else,” the boy whined.
            He was already half way across the parking lot before he slowed down for her reply, but when it didn’t come, he picked up his pace. Once his mother had a captive audience, she never stopped talking long enough to pay him much mind.
            He sat down beside the old man, who never even looked up. Will Perkins was as deaf as a post and didn’t have much to say to anyone. Perhaps that was why the boy enjoyed; no, craved, his company. Will’s silence was golden. The boy looked toward the car, but he could only just faintly hear his mother’s crescendo drifting from the open car windows. Glancing back he could see Mrs. Matthews nodding politely or shaking her head absently while obviously pretending to hear every word.
            “But as I was telling the pastor just last week…or was it the week before?” She worried over the date, and then continued confidently. “No, I’m sure it was last week because it was right after the benediction at prayer meetin’. So I said to him, I says, ‘You know, Reverend Rollins, you just don’t know how hard it is to get enough tenors to come out to choir. We have a gracious plenty of sopranos, and goodness knows, we have enough altos. But all the men want to sing bass.’”
She slowed up for breath and her companion took advantage of the pause to ask, “Muriel, what time do you have? My watch has stopped. It must be getting close to five o’clock, isn’t it?”
            Muriel Dobson looked at the watch, it’s expansion band strangling her fat wrist and slid it downward to ease the circulation. “Why, yes it is, honey. It’s two minutes to five right now. I’ve never known that bus to be on time though. Well, anyway, I says to him, I says, ‘I hate to say it, Reverend, but if you’d just speak to…’”
            While Mrs. Dobson continued her story, Grace sat with hands folded in her lap, resigned to waiting. Just then the huge, gray and blue bus loomed at the corner and swerved into the station parking lot. 
            Muriel exclaimed, “Well, there it is now, and not a minute too soon either. We’ll have to really hurry to make it to church this evening. I’ll just wait for you here, Grace, so you can hurry faster. Just holler out to Mark William to get over there and help you with the bags when you’re ready. Mark William,” she bawled, “you help her with those bags when she’s ready. You hear me?”
            Grace climbed out of the car and slowly approached the station. She watched each passenger that got off the bus, waiting for a young girl she had not seen since she was a baby. Her pulse quickened. She had seen no recent pictures of her fourteen-year-old granddaughter and had received no description, but she felt confident she would know her son’s child immediately.
            Finally, a slight figure of a girl stepped off the bus. She was dressed in a faded skirt and blouse and grubby, white sneakers with no socks. Her little toes pushed out through the fraying canvas of the shoes. Her long, thick, dark hair was worn in two loose ponytails and cascaded down her rather undeveloped chest. This couldn’t be the object of her search, Grace decided, for this girl couldn’t be more than twelve years old at the most. The last passenger had gotten off the bus now, and the driver was unloading the baggage compartment. The girl stood only a few steps from the bus and stared at her strange surroundings. Grace noted that she seemed nervous and ill at ease. There seemed to be something vaguely familiar about her in an unsettling sort of way.
             “Are you Rosalind?” Grace asked with doubt in her voice as she searched the young girl’s face for some sign of recognition. But there was none, just a blank expression that greeted her. How strange. She’d always pictured her granddaughter as a blond.
            “Yes, and you are…” the girl hesitated for words.
            “I’m Grace Matthews. I’m your grandmother,” the older woman said a little too stiffly.
            Rosalind didn’t know what to do next. Should she offer to shake hands, or should she kiss her? But the woman didn’t seem to encourage either. Instead, she turned abruptly and addressed her attention to the driver as he took the last suitcase from the belly of the bus. Taking the baggage check from the girl’s hand, Grace handed it to him and waited while he searched for the bag.
            “It’s a red, plaid suitcase, a small one,” the girl offered.
            “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but it’s not here. It must have been on that second section out of Phoenix. It’s bound to turn up. Maybe you ought to check tomorrow when the station’s open.” He seemed anxious to be on his way and climbed back up the steps to his driver’s seat, leaving the flustered girl to follow in the wake of her grandmother, who had headed for the parking lot.
            “It’s insured, isn’t it, Rosalind?” Grace spoke over her shoulder.
            The girl halted in her footsteps and stammered, “I don’t know. I mean…I guess so…Don’t they always? Well, I almost missed the bus, and they kept saying to just hurry up, and I didn’t think to…” her voice trailed off when she saw Mrs. Matthews’s stare.
            “You mean you didn’t buy extra insurance for it when you got your ticket? They only insure the bags for twenty-five dollars each, and that would hardly replace a suitcase nowadays, much less all your clothes.”
            The woman was clearly exasperated and didn’t try to conceal her annoyance, but the girl was so chagrinned that Grace decided it would be best to drop the subject for now.
            Mark William, who had been careful to stay out of sight until now that he was sure there was no bag to carry, raced over to the car to dutifully open the door for Mrs. Matthews. With an admiring grin he noticed that the girl was about his height, even if she was older. Grace paused to indicate the back seat for Rosalind and then eased into the car.
            “Muriel, this is my granddaughter, Rosalind.” She turned toward the back seat and continued, addressing the girl, “and this is our choir director, Miz Muriel Dobson, who was kind enough to drive me down here to meet you. And this is her son, Mark William Dobson. They’re our neighbors.”
            Rosalind looked out of dark brown eyes and mumbled a quiet but appropriate response, quickly lowering her gaze. It was difficult for her to look people in the eye for very long.
            Muriel appraised her thoughtfully and said, “So, you’re Charlie’s girl.” Then, staring into the rear view mirror as she started the car’s engine, she continued, “Can’t say you look much like your father. He was always such a good-looking young man with those gorgeous blue eyes. My daughter, Mary Louise, used to say he was the best looking boy in Grayson. She always did have a crush on him ever since they were little. You remember that, don’t you, Grace?”
            Mrs. Matthews nodded slightly, her lips pursed together, as the car backed out of the parking lot. She stared straight ahead through the windshield as Muriel pursued the subject of Charlie’s blond hair and sun-tanned good looks and his popularity. Rosalind self-consciously tossed her ponytails back over her shoulders. She knew she wasn’t pretty and was still stinging from the heavy-set woman’s comparisons to her father.
            “…still, she didn’t do too bad marrying Howard from over to Spartanburg,” Muriel rattled on about her daughter as the old sedan lumbered down the streets of town. Almost everyone in Grayson knew that Mary Louise had set her cap for Charlie early on, and had had a fit when he up and married someone else. Not that the feelings on Charlie’s part had ever been mutual. But Muriel was relieved when Mary Louise’s marriage to Howard had worked out, despite fears that she had just married him on the rebound.
            Rosalind quickly surmised that here was a woman who could talk on automatic pilot and did not seem to mind or even notice if she had lost her audience. The girl stole a quick sideways glance at the freckled-faced boy who sat staring at her.  She shifted her position slightly and spread her hand out on the seat beside her. Under her hand was something wet and sticky. She recoiled slightly to notice a big, wet, partially eaten plank of peanut brittle on the seat where her hand had been.
            “Oh, thanks!” the boy exclaimed as he reached greedily for the remnant of his treat.
            The two women in the front seat were for the moment ignoring the little peanut brittle drama going on in the back seat. They chattered about the upcoming church supper; or rather Mrs. Dobson chattered while Mrs. Matthews mostly listened and nodded occasionally, but unnecessarily. Grace’s forbearance was more than polite. It came from years of close friendship. Few people were as patient with Muriel as Grace was.
            “You know, there’s not much time left. Maybe we ought to just stop off and get a sandwich so we’ll be able to get to the church by six forty-five,” Muriel prompted.
            “That’s a good idea, but only if you’ll let me buy. It will pay for the gas,” Grace offered.
            After putting up a weak argument, Muriel acceded to her friend’s suggestion, as Grace knew she would. A block further on she pulled off at the Tastee Freeze.
            “Why don’t ya’ll give me your orders and Rosalind and I can carry everything,” Grace suggested.
            “That’s a good idea. I’ll have a barbeque with iced tea. What’ll you have, Mark William, and don’t make a pig of yourself.”
            “I want a cheeseburger with chili and mayonnaise and a cherry Coke,” the boy said as he scrambled over the front seat. “I can come with you to help carry everything.”
            “Oh no, you won’t! You’re gonna sit right here in this car where I can keep an eye on you. None of your tricks like last time. Unscrewin’ the salt and pepper lids! Now git back over that seat and mind me!”
            Grace closed the car door and said, “We’ll just be a minute. It doesn’t look too crowded.”
            As they waited at the take-out window, Mark William leaned over the front seat and asked, “Why is she comin’ here to live with Miz Matthews? Where’s her own folks?”
            “She’s been livin’ in Arizona with foster parents. You remember, I told you. Her mama and daddy died. Now don’t be so nosy. They’re gonna hear you.” Muriel shushed him, though her own voice was much louder than his.
            Minutes later Grace and Rosalind returned with the bags of greasy food. They all ate quickly with little conversation, even from Muriel, and soon they were on their way. Rosalind gazed out the window at the passing scenery. She was awed by the canopy of trees arching over the streets. They turned a corner and pulled over to the curb in front of a white, frame, two-story house.
            “If you don’t mind,” Muriel said, “I’m gonna just drop you off and head on over to the church. I’m sure you two have a blue million things to talk about, and I can see you later after prayer meetin.’” She said all this without a single breath. “Bye-bye, now. Don’t be late.”
            She pulled away as soon as her passengers had closed their doors behind them, and Rosalind followed her grandmother up a sidewalk flanked by concrete benches. They climbed the steps and Grace paused to check the mail in the box mounted on the porch wall below the house numbers, 406. Finding nothing in the box, she removed her house key from her purse, unlocked the front door, and went inside.
            Rosalind followed in her wake staring into the unfamiliar room as Grace switched on the light and laid her purse on the hall table beside the staircase. They each missed the mindless chatter of Muriel Dobson and were aware of the awkwardness of their first meeting. Grace ran her gloved finger across the table to test for dust and glanced about her home approvingly.
            When her husband, Sam Matthews, passed on in 1952, he left her this house, a small insurance policy, and just enough money for Grace to live out her life comfortably. But now that life was to include this adolescent girl who was so reticent as to seem almost rude. Grace still wasn’t sure she welcomed this intrusion upon her quiet widowhood, but with a sigh she acknowledged that the decision had already been made.
            “Why don’t I show you your room upstairs and you can freshen up in the bathroom. It’s a shame your suitcase isn’t here, but that outfit will have to do for church tonight.”  She eyed Rosalind critically, marking the tennis shoes with distaste, then turned and led the way upstairs as the girl meekly followed.
            “We’re going to church tonight?” Rosalind asked in amazement.
            “Yes, dear. Didn’t you attend church in Arizona?”
            “Well, yes. Sometimes. But never on Wednesdays.”
            “It’s prayer meeting tonight, and I’m anxious to have everyone meet you.” 
With a sting of conscience Grace realized that that was a lie. Her feelings were just the opposite. She tried not to pay too much attention to the girl’s rag-tag looks. What would people think? She recalled her son’s well-groomed appearance. In despair she thought to herself, Muriel was right. She doesn’t look a bit like Charlie.
Late that night Rosalind lay awake in the large bed thinking over the day’s events. The strangeness of the dark, old house bore down upon her, but somehow it felt a bit friendlier than most of the other houses she had slept in over the past few years.
            Her teeth hurt. They were still on edge from having ridden for three days and nights with her head propped on a pillow against the bus window. It wasn’t a bad trip though, despite the discomfort and exhaustion. In some places the new scenery was exquisite and almost never boring. She had imagined that she was free of everything, rushing toward the end of the rainbow. But during the last leg of her journey she had had nagging worries over the prospect of meeting her new guardian. Up until two weeks ago Rosalind had known nothing of the little South Carolina town where her father had been born, and now she was to live there with his mother. Now. After all these years.
            The social worker hadn’t given her much information about Grace Matthews. She told the girl that her parents had been killed in an auto accident north of Phoenix when she was only a toddler; and that she had somehow survived the crash because she had rolled off the back seat to the floorboard in her sleep. Some flying object in the car had struck her unconscious, and by the time she had regained consciousness weeks later, the funeral arrangements had been carried out and a foster family was to take her into their home. She was now a ward of the state.
            Her first foster parents had tried to be kind, but they had problems of their own. Then when the husband left the family the wife had to go to work to support her own four children. Thus Rosalind entered the foster care rat race, bounced from one foster home to another for years, until this summer when word came that her grandmother had traced her whereabouts and asked to have custody. So Rosalind had boarded a Greyhound bus in Phoenix and crossed the country to the Southland where she was to live with yet another stranger. Why, she wondered, after all this time? She only knew that her grandmother had been very ill for several years following the accident, and had been unable to provide a home for her any sooner. Funny, Rosalind thought, she didn’t look like she’d been sick a day in her life.
            Rosalind rose from bed and crept silently to the window. She sat on the window seat and watched the stars flickering through the trees. Real trees that towered skyward! In Arizona, people planted cacti in their desert lawns, or mulberry trees that looked like oversized umbrellas that had been struck by lightning. Most of the mature trees were kept in parks or on golf courses, like pets. Everything looked so green here, even with the heat. She smiled at the thought of everyone complaining about how hot it was. While it was awfully humid here, the heat was nothing to compare with that of a Phoenix summer. She thought of her last home in the suburbs of the city and of trying to keep cool in the hot, crowded little house.
            Her thoughts wandered back to the present and she decided this was going to be just like all the other times, getting used to another family. She wasn’t sure this home would end up any differently from the rest. It wasn’t that she had meant not to fit in. She wanted a home – needed a home – more than anything. But she had had terrible night terrors when she was younger, and would jump out of bed to run screaming through the house in the middle of the night, eyes glazed. She couldn’t recognize her surroundings or anyone about her, and if people tried to wake her up, she would stare right through them, shrieking as though they were terrible creatures from her nightmares. These episodes continued for as long as half an hour before she could be brought out of them and put back to bed; and they often reoccurred several times a night. Small wonder her foster parents were distraught and probably never considered being anything more permanent. Luckily they were part of a social program as foster parents, and could call upon the rest of that system for help, and a county psychologist had had a talk with her and learned that her nightmares were always the same.
            She was walking through an old cemetery alone at night. People began staring at her from behind trees and gravestones. One by one they would follow her or spring up in her path, their faces changing to ghoulish, hideous things right before her eyes. The dream occurred frequently with little variation. The doctor decided it was a manifestation of her having seen too many monster movies at an impressionable age, and probably relating her concept of death to the violent deaths of her parents. After counseling the dreams subsided for a time, but she retained a morbid fear of the dark. She would often sit up in her bed with her back to the wall the whole night through, staring at the fleeting night shadows in the room.
            Small wonder she seldom lasted more than a few months in any one foster home, except for the year she had spent with a schoolteacher and his wife. She had liked that home best. Mrs. Jarnigan had really spent a lot of time with her. But then they adopted a baby and Rosalind’s stay came to an end. That was the nicest home she had lived in. She’d had her own room and was able to learn to play the piano, a little. Mrs. Jarnigan said she thought Rosalind had a real gift for music.
            Rosalind closed her eyes and tried not to think of her years in foster homes. They had been such unhappy times, times when she wondered if she would ever really belong anywhere. Her experiences had made it difficult for her to make friends, to form attachments, to love people. Eventually she found she even preferred the frequent moves and changes in surroundings. At first she looked forward to going to what she hoped would be a real home; then after awhile she became restless again. Perhaps that was what made her uneasy about this latest move. Suppose she failed here too? There would be no place to move on to. The permanence of this arrangement frightened her.
            She looked about the bedroom. A dim light from the small lamp on the dresser cast a warm patina over the furniture. This was the guest room and it was quite large. There was a big four-poster bed with a yo-yo bedspread folded neatly at the foot. An unbleached muslin dust ruffle brushed the soft carpet. The furniture was older, probably family antiques. She got up and walked around the room absently pausing to touch the chair, to run her hand across the headboard of the bed. There was even a fireplace, long since bricked up, probably when a furnace was installed. On the mantle were knick-knacks and pictures in ornate frames. They intrigued her. She stared at them in the dim glow of the night light and of the street lamps from outside, trying to find something, someone, who might answer all her questions. But there was nothing there for her. The eyes of strangers stared back. Judging by the clothing they wore, these images were captured many years ago.
            All her life Rosalind had wondered who she was. All she had was her name. That, and a slim file folder in a neglected filing cabinet in Phoenix. All her life she had wondered. But now, now that she was here with someone who claimed to be her grandmother, here in the house where her own father grew up, she felt just as lost, just as alone as she ever had. What’s more, she wasn’t even sure her grandmother liked her. They certainly hadn’t seemed to hit it off very well so far. Even the way her grandmother had reluctantly offered the loan of a nightgown was a silent condemnation of her actions in the suitcase incident. Rosalind had accepted the gown, but it felt foreign to her. After hanging her rumpled skirt and blouse on a hook in the closet she had climbed into the big bed in her slip and pulled the sheets up to her neck. Even in this heat she needed the covers for security. For a few moments the sheets felt cool to the touch, but she soon kicked them back and lay there in the large bed.
            “I’m glad she didn’t kiss me,” she told herself. “She’s just another stranger. I don’t know why I thought it would be any different here. Just because she says she’s my grandmother doesn’t mean she has to like me.”
            She turned over on her side and pulled the covers over her head, leaving only enough room to breathe. She felt as if she wanted to cry, but tears wouldn’t come. It had been years. Besides, it never did any good. She lay there twisting a lock of her long hair around her finger late into the night.
            Somewhere in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness, she saw the many faces of her foster parents. Some were kind; some were indifferent. Some were affectionate. Some were only interested in the monthly income she represented to them from the state. None were her parents. How many times she had wished someone would adopt her and take her away from all the unhappiness, the uncertainty; but the chances of this happening grew slimmer with each passing year. Everyone wanted a cute, cuddly baby to hold and love. No one wanted a child with emotional problems who didn’t know how to love, who didn’t want to.
            The sun had risen and most of Grayson was deeply involved in its morning routine when Rosalind awoke to the sound of a blaring radio from the house next door. A familiar voice yelled out, “Mark William Dobson, you shut that radio off! Do you hear me?”
            Rosalind threw back the covers and lay in the bed a few moments trying to absorb her surroundings in the daylight. The pale pink wallpaper was very out-dated but pretty in its own way; but Rosalind hated pink. Almost all her clothes were pink; all her hand-me-downs and garage sale specials. That color had come to symbolize her loneliness. No one spent much money on a foster child; not with the kind of turnover they had. She hoped her suitcase would never turn up. It was as wicked a thought as she had ever dreamed, and it was delicious. Her grandmother had said she would buy her some new clothes today if the suitcase hadn’t shown up at the bus station. She hoped so. The styles here seemed so much dressier than in the West.
            She thought of the prayer meeting last night in the big, old, brick church on Main Street, and of the brief introduction she’d had to her grandmother’s friends and acquaintances. Mrs. Dobson was there, of course, and Mark William. She’d been introduced to several of the girls her age, including the two who sat in the pew in front of them. Stephanie and June had been cordial enough to Mrs. Matthews, and promised to take Rosalind to their Sunday school class the next Sunday. But their eyes didn’t miss her attire, and they whispered to themselves and giggled and passed notes during the service.
            Mark William waved once from where he was sitting on the other side of the sanctuary. When he knew his mother’s back would be turned to him during the choir’s number, he had slipped out with such an accomplished maneuver that Rosalind was sure he was well practiced in such escapes. With the same skill he had managed to sneak back in unnoticed just before the benediction.
            After the service the minister had shaken Rosalind’s hand and welcomed her to Grayson. He asked her where her home church was. She was too embarrassed to say she didn’t really have one since she had moved around so often. She didn’t want to admit that she had never joined a church. Why, she didn’t even own a Bible. When she lived with church-going people, she went wherever they went, whether Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or Assembly of God. She’d had no formal religious training, but she couldn’t admit all that to this dignified minister of the gospel.
            Her grandmother answered for her with determination, “Rosalind’s father was born and reared here. This is her home church.”
            The other girls hung back in a group, staring at Rosalind and whispering, pressing Stephanie and June for information. She was an outsider to them, even if she was a grandchild of the Matthews family, pillars of this church, and all that. As far as they were concerned, she would have to earn her way into their society.
            A knock on the bedroom door brought Rosalind back to the present.
            “Yes?” Rosalind said.
            Her grandmother spoke through the door, “Wake up call.”
            Rosalind sat on the side of the bed until she heard her grandmother’s voice again.
             “Ready for breakfast?” Grace called from downstairs “I made pancakes and sausage since I didn’t know what you liked. Come on down as soon as you can, while they’re still hot.”
            “I’ll be right there,” Rosalind answered as she scrambled out of bed and dressed hurriedly in the same outfit she had arrived in.
            She didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot again so she carefully made the bed, pulling the yo-yo bedspread up over the pillow and tucking it in. The threads were old and broke between some of the circles of colored fabric. She bit her lip and tried to camouflage breaks in the bedspread threads with the throw pillows.
            Standing in front of the dresser mirror she combed out her long hair, lifting it up into a ponytail and securing it with a rubber band. Staring at her image critically, she took a deep breath, opened the door, and left the room.
            Rosalind descended the stairs and paused in the hallway to get her bearings. This was a marvelous old house built in a style that history buffs would appreciate for all the right reasons, which for the moment escaped her. But she was impressed with the security and strength it suggested. Typical of many old Southern homes, the hall bisected the first floor with rooms off to either side. You could see straight through to the back door and the kitchen was just off to the right at the end of the hall. The aroma of sausages and pancakes and hot coffee met her as she reached the end of the passageway.
            She seated herself opposite her grandmother at the small kitchen table, and after Grace had asked the blessing, she helped herself to the delicious food.
            “Did you sleep all right?” Grace inquired politely.
            “Yes, thank you,” Rosalind lied. “The room is very big. Very nice,” she corrected herself. She should have said that she was not used to such a large room. She had never had so much space to herself before. The bedrooms in most of her foster homes were small and usually shared with other children.
            “I called the bus station as soon as it opened, and your suitcase still hasn’t turned up. They’ve put out a tracer on it, but who knows how long it will take to locate it. We’d better plan to shop for you in town this morning. With school starting in a week you’ll be needing a lot of things.”
            Rosalind responded politely, “Yes ma’am. Thank you.” Self-consciously she slowly ate her breakfast, remembering to chew with her mouth closed and mind her table manners.
            “I hope you won’t mind, but I’ve called Myra down at the beauty shop and she said she can work you in this morning for a shampoo and set. I thought we’d go there first.”
            Grace avoided looking at the girl. She didn’t want to admit to herself that she was embarrassed by Rosalind’s waifish appearance. Her long hair pulled back severely from her face accentuated her thin features. Rosalind got the message and shrugged her shoulders as if to say it didn’t matter to her.
            After the breakfast dishes were cleared Grace called over her shoulder from the sink, “Why don’t you just make yourself at home. I won’t be long. I just have to wash these few dishes up and water my house plants.”
            With curiosity Rosalind wandered through the rooms. In the den she found rows of photographs hanging on the wall. They were all the same person. This young man ought to look familiar to her. He must have been her father. There he was a boy in a crisp, white sailor suit, sitting with one leg crossed beneath him on a bench in some photographer’s studio. The next picture showed the same boy, a little older, with a stern expression and a cowboy hat, its strings tied under his chin. Another picture, taken still later, showed him in a football uniform, charging the camera with a fierce determination. Next was a prom photo of him all dressed up in a white dinner jacket. The last likeness was of him in his army uniform, his close-cropped hair bearing the signature of some army barber.
            Rosalind was uncomfortable. It felt as though she were visiting a shrine. Looking at all these pictures was like eavesdropping on someone else’s life. With a last glance at the room she entered the hall where she met her grandmother coming from the kitchen.
            “I was just on my way up to change my shoes, Rosalind. I won’t be long.”
            Grace climbed the stairs and entered the bedroom across from the guest room. She seated herself at the dressing table and picked up a hairbrush to smooth out wisps of her hair. The photograph of her husband Sam smiled at her from the left, and that of her son Charlie from the right. She thought of that girl downstairs and how unlike these two she was. What a pity we’re such strangers, she thought.

Available for pre-publication at  http://www.amazon.com and in bookstores May 8th.

1 comment:

  1. I am hooked! The first chapter did a great job of introducing the story and the characters! Because of all the wonderful details, I was easily able to imagine what the characters and settings looked like. I'm looking forward to reading more!