Dreaming in the Pages

Books ... where dreams are better than reality

Broken Pieces

Jack Canon's American Destiny

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Greedy for Life: A Memoir on Aging with Gratitude by Lori Stevic-Rust (Excerpt)

1clip_image001My Beginning and Her Near End

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”


I looked at the clock for probably the fifteenth time already, and it was only 9:30 a.m. Traffic this morning was not that heavy, and I got to the office with time to spare; and yet I was already falling behind in the schedule. Where does the time go? I find myself frequently longing for more time. Time to complete what I need to do and often wishing for excess to do the things I really want to do.

What a strange phenomenon, time. It seems to be the one thing we all wish we had more of, but yet we are not always certain what to do with it when we have it. As a child and adolescent, time seemed to move so slowly. Those big events that I put on my calendar, such as homecoming, prom, graduation, and my birthdays, all seemed to take so long to arrive.

Now here I sit with time moving at warped speed, with events, chores, activities, and tasks zipping by me with more being added and never enough time to complete them all. Children growing, wrinkles developing, and what is happening to my hair…more grays. Need to make time for more hair color.

I packed up my briefcase with my unfinished tasks in the bag to be transported home with the fantasy that I may do some work when I returned home. But most likely I would end up transporting the same work back to the office tomorrow to add to the rotating to-do list. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I returned home at 7:05 p.m. (yes, I looked at the clock again). I was greeted by my grandmother, who was sitting on the couch in the spot I had left her earlier that morning at about a quarter to seven.

Growing up, we called her Gram, but after the great-grandchildren were born, they started to call her Nana. The name stuck for all of us. Nana, or Emily Bernice Sitosky Serian, is a beautiful blue-eyed Polish woman. While her eyes are striking, it is her smile that draws you to her. The warmth of her thoughts radiates through her smile. When she laughs, her mouth is open wide without embarrassment as the sounds come from deep within. That same mouth can smile with pride, showing softness around the corners and with a gentle turning up of the lower lip her mouth reveals comfort and compassion during periods of sadness. Ironically, she is most self-conscious about her mouth, particularly the deformity of her upper lip. The scar she tries to hide with lipstick has been with her since her baptism day. Her godmother had pinned the collar of her blouse together with straight pins, apparently a common practice among women back then, and during the baptismal service, she picked Nana up and put her over her shoulder to comfort her. The straight pin went deep into Nana’s upper lip, and without antibiotics, it became infected. The doctor cut the infected area away, leaving a missing piece in her upper lip.

Today Nana stands about five feet, even with her shoes. She has lost several inches over the years, thanks to her severe osteoporosis, which has left her with a significant arch to her upper back. At five foot three I feel very tall next to her. I brag about it. She reminds me that her excuse is osteoporosis, what is mine? But she can boast about her incredible skin. It is soft, light in color, even in tone, with only a few wrinkles near her mouth. Her eyes reveal the path of her years of laughing and smiling. She attributes the integrity of her skin to the years of buying expensive and exotic face moisturizers, which she still uses today. In fact, her one and only visible age spot seems out of place on her face. When she notices it in the mirror, it annoys her, but she begrudgingly admits that, “One ain’t so bad for a one-hundred-year-old lady.” That’s right. Nana just turned one hundred years old.

While her face does not reveal her age, her hands do. Physically they are smaller, more fragile, with almost transparent skin revealing the blue lines of her veins. The joints in her hand have begun to curve under, creating a closed appearance. They look frail. But when I watch her use them, they are the same hands I remember from when I was a child. They reveal a lifetime of hard work. Below the paper-thin skin there are remnants of the strong and sturdy muscles that once worked the family farm. Her chores as a young girl on the farm were every bit as physical as those of her brothers, including milking cows and plowing the crops. Then of course there is my personal favorite childhood story she would tell about her responsibility for preparing the chicken for the family dinner. This lovely mealtime preparation began with her selecting the chicken from the coup, chasing it around in the yard, then “twirling” it until she could successfully snap its neck. This was followed by chopping off its head and pulling out the feathers before handing it off to her mother to cook. True story. We stopped letting Nana tell bedtime stories to the great-grandchildren.

Her hands not only worked the farm as a child, but also physically labored throughout all of her adult life. She worked long shifts in a Laundromat, in a diaper service company, in a factory, and cooked and cleaned in the family’s own restaurant. At the age of eighty-five, she was still doing gardening work, canning tomatoes, and was even caught once pulling shingles off a roof. But the surface of her hands, the skin that touches you, is quiet and soothing. She still uses her hands in the most unique way that it is visibly noticeable by all who meet her. Whether she is applying moisturizer, cutting fruit, holding babies, or making noodles, her hands move with both surgical precision and gentle, oh so gentle deliberate care.

I did not inherit her beautiful blue eyes or her blonde hair, but I did get her voice. The voice can best be described as raspy and hoarse sounding. In fact, people will often ask if I have a cold when they hear me speak for the first time. Depending on who is asking, I may explain that it is my normal voice; it’s actually my grandmother’s voice, I may add with pride. Or I may admit to a cold that I don’t have to spare the asker the embarrassment. My husband thinks it is sexy. Personally, I think it comes from the acid reflux disease that I also inherited from Grandma, but it’s good that it sounds erotic to him. When I hear my voice after a television interview or on a recorder, I smile at the harsh, squeaky, rough sound. It’s her voice. I not only sound like her but I am privileged to hear her voice in my head.

I put my briefcase down and stepped into the living room, where I snuggled up on the couch next to Nana and we began to talk about our day. I went on and on about the amount of work and how much I didn’t complete, and then again asked the rhetorical question, “Where does time go?”

She smiled and said, “I was thinking the same thing.” She added, “Every time I looked at the clock today, it seemed to move so slowly and the day seemed so long.” Incredible. The cycle of life—time moves slowly, time moves too fast, and then it returns to moving slowly. Nana went on to talk about how difficult aging can be when you want to do more things then you are able to do, when you want to spend time on those things that make you feel productive and satisfied. I suddenly felt sad for her and a little ashamed of myself. I realized that I too will one day sit wishing that time would move quickly when I am no longer able to do the things that I love and the things that make me feel productive and valued. I’m reminded that time went on before me and will certainly go on after me…I am only afforded a sliver of that time. My sliver to date has been almost fifty years. Yep…I am about to turn fifty years old, and that is what all this musing about time and age is about.

More recently, I find myself taking time, making time, to reflect on how in the world I was to become fifty freaking years old soon. Even as I put it to print, I can’t believe time has passed that quickly. I know that is what everybody says—well, mostly old people say it. You rarely hear a twenty-five-year-old saying, “Oh my, where has the time gone.” I think that is because they know exactly where it has gone. They can account for the years, often with great detail.

Here it is almost fifty years for me and one hundred years for Grandma. If I am as fortunate as she to live a long life, I may be at my halfway point. What a thought. Perhaps fifty more years to live...what will I do with them? And if I have less than fifty years, what should I be doing with them? I guess this is what we mean when we talk about a midlife crisis. It’s a turning point, a reality check, a time to pause and reflect on life. Will the things that I truly valued and wanted in the first half of my life be the same for the remainder of my life? I suspect they won’t, and I think that is probably a healthy and expected thing, but the unknown of it seems a bit unsettling.

I feel a sense of urgency when I think about time moving and the things I still want to accomplish. I don’t want to keep looking at the clock. I want to look at my reflection in my children, in my family, my friends, and my patients. I want to know that I have embraced my grandmother’s philosophy, “Be greedy for life.” She has spent her life absorbing moments like a sponge so they could sustain her later; giving, always giving, so she could feel good about what she was getting; and loving, not just the easy kind of loving, but genuinely loving people that I often thought were not worthy of her love. But it never stopped her. Carrying a grudge or a hurt seemed to be a waste of time…precious time for her.

Throughout her aging process (which for her I think started at the age of ninety when she moved out of her home in Akron, stopped driving, and moved in with my parents), she would often say she was not ready to die, but promised to let us know when she was getting ready.

“Lori,” she said, “I always wanted to live long enough to see you graduate, and then I wanted to be here to see you get married, then to have babies. Then I thought I would be satisfied. But now I want to see my great-grandchildren graduate and get married and rock their babies. Time…there will never be enough. I will always want more, to see more, and to be part of more. I’m greedy for life.”

I believe that she still feels that way, but I have recently noticed that some of her physical energy is fading, and with that some of her emotional energy and her greed for life have begun to fade as well. Our conversation on time continued a bit more, and then our eyes met and she said, “I wonder what kind of time I have left.”

Now, being a psychologist and relatively sensitive and an emotionally strong person, I handled this comment with all the grace I could muster. I responded, “You have as much time as I decide, old lady. I will tell you when it is OK for you to die.” We both broke out laughing until we cried. She then added, “OK, then in the meantime, maybe we both should stop looking at the clock. Time is not always kind.” I agreed.

My connection with my grandmother was born out of fate and destiny. I say this in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, but the story of how we met or almost didn’t meet convinces me I am right in believing we were destined to share our time on earth.


The weatherman, Dick Goddard, was reporting on the extreme cold temperatures and the risk for significant snowfall. It was November 1962, one of the snowiest and coldest winters in Akron, Ohio. The ringing of the phone in the kitchen woke my mother from a sound sleep. The clock on the nightstand next to her bed read 2:45 a.m. While she was in the process of jumping out of bed, my father was already in the kitchen answering the phone. He returned to the bedroom and said, “It was the hospital. Your mother has started to bleed internally and they are preparing her for surgery.” My mother recalls a feeling of numbness climbing over her and her voice repeating, “Oh my God. They said she wasn’t strong enough yet for surgery.”

Two weeks prior it was discovered that my grandmother had bleeding ulcers in her stomach. She apparently had been showing signs of bleeding, but she ignored them, believing that would heal on their own. One morning when she was on her way to work at the local diaper store at 4:30 a.m., she collapsed near the car. She had been hospitalized for two weeks while the doctors tried to stabilize her. They knew she had lost a significant amount of blood and was not strong enough for them to attempt to surgically intervene. Unfortunately, the bleeding had restarted and emergency surgery was necessary. My grandmother’s recollection of that evening was waking feeling weak and ringing for the nurse; then she began to see pigs on the walls, and everything went black.

My parents arrived at the hospital as my grandmother was being rushed down the hallway on a gurney with several doctors and nurses running behind. One of the doctors stopped to tell them that she did not have a pulse and admitted that things did not look good. They saw that my grandmother was catholic and suggested that now may be the time for the family to contact a priest. They went on to say that they had called a Dr. Fox, who was one of the best surgeons on their staff, and he was prepping for the surgery.

My parents joined my grandfather in the waiting room for what would be an all-night vigil that lasted until about noon. As family stories go, I am told that as the vigil of waiting for news of the surgery continued, the doors at the end of the hall finally opened. My mother recalls the hospital hallway being long and dimly lit, so when the doors opened, it created an image of a small silhouette of a man in a surgical cap walking toward them.

They all stood as he approached, anxiously searching his face for clues on what he was about to say. Dr. Fox, or as the family has referred to him over the past fifty years, “the man with kind eyes and God’s hands,” let them know that Nana was still alive but not out of danger. They had to remove three fourths of her stomach. He then gestured to my mother’s belly and instructed her to go home and get some rest, as she was nine months pregnant with me. He felt she should go home to prevent early labor as I was to be born two weeks later. As my mother cried, he assured her that he would sit with my grandmother through the night but it was now out of his hands and in God’s.

Whether God played a role in my grandmother’s recovery can be debated by many. For her, she believes that her purpose on earth had not been completed. At the age of fifty, my age, she felt she still had so much to accomplish and so much to see and enjoy with her family. She always seemed to understand and accept that she had a purpose for being alive. With age that purpose seemed to become clearer and the drive to fulfill it became more intense.

For me, I wonder what my life would have been like if she had died and I had never met her. When I track back in time, decisions that I made, beliefs that I hold, and values that I cherish, I wonder if I would have come to different conclusions without her voice in my head. I sit here today incredibly grateful that on that early morning in November 1962, somebody intervened and gave me the ultimate gift of my grandmother. I received the gift of time, time with her for the past fifty years.

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Genre – Memoir

Rating – PG13

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Connect with Lori Stevic-Rust  on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://www.doctorlori.net/

Orangeberry Book Tours – The Eden Plague: Book 1 (Plague Wars) by David VanDyke

A thriller/military science fiction apocalyptic technothriller.  BOOK 1 OF THE SERIES.

Rule #1: Try not to shoot your future wife. When special operations veteran Daniel Markis finds armed invaders in his home and it all goes sideways, he soon finds himself on the run from the shadowy Company and in possession of a biological breakthrough that might throw human society into chaos. Out of options, Daniel turns to his brothers in arms to fight back and get the answers he needs. Soon he takes possession of a secret that threatens the stability of the world, as he leads a conspiracy to change everything.

This thriller leads readers into the exciting and engrossing Plague Wars military science fiction series.

The Eden Plague is a science-fiction military techno-thriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, with shades of David Drake, Jerry Pournelle, S. M. Stirling, Vaughn Heppner and B.V. Larson. Second Edition.

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Genre – SciFi /Adventure

Rating – PG13

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Blog https://davidvandyke.wordpress.com/

Friday, May 3, 2013

Orangeberry Free Alert - Assassination of a Dignitary by Carolyn Arnold

Assassination of a Dignitary - Carolyn Arnold

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre - Action, Adventure

Rating - PG13

4.8 (6 reviews)

Free until 5 May 2013

Raymond Hunter's dark past has returned and demands one final favor. Now fifteen years later, settled as an accountant and family man, he assumed life would be calm. He thought wrong. The Italian Mafia wants him back.
The directions were simple: Kill Governor Behler and be out for good.
In order to protect his family and guard them from the truth, he has no choice but to accept the job. He picks the date and location—Niagara Falls, New York—two hundred and forty miles away. But by the time he returns home, he finds out the assassination attempt failed, his family has been kidnapped, and he has twenty-four hours to set things right if he wants to see them again.
With time running out, Raymond discovers the real reason they wanted Behler dead and finds out he’s placed himself and his family right in the middle of a mafia power struggle. What he doesn’t realize is that law enforcement is also closing in.

An Easter Bonnet for Lily by Jodie Stone

From children's author & illustrator Jodie Stone
Prize Pack includes:
$25 Visa gift card, Paperback copy of 'An Easter Bonnet for Lily' , Jodi Stone Illustrated Greeting Cards,
Jodi Stone Illustrated Paper Dolls, Magnets, bookmarks

Join children's author & illustrator Jodi Stone for a Twitter Party
Tuesday, May 7 at 11:00 am ET
Connect with the Author: Goodreads  *  Facebook  *  website

Easter is Savannah’s favorite holiday. She loves to dress up in her fanciest of dresses and bonnets, and enjoys all of the traditions her family continues year to year. Savannah finds herself struggling though on a day that she usually loves, and finds herself feeling discouraged. Across the land in Tulip, Easter Bunnies are preparing for the big day as well, all but one: Lily. Lily is the newest Easter Bunny recruit, but struggles with one major problem: her ears. Join both Savannah and Lily on this magical Easter adventure, where they will both realize that magic is held within your heart if you just believe.
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Orangeberry Book Tours – Style, Chic, Trendy, Cheap by Elle Campbell

A past graduate of Parsons School of Design, Elle Campbell held internships with companies such as BCBG Max Azria and MTV and had worked in merchandising and buying for contemporary fashion companies like True Religion and Juicy Couture. Now a fashion and lifestyle writer, Elle Campbell really knows what she is talking about when she is using her years of expertise to inform readers how to have an expensive looking wardrobe, luminous skin, red carpet worthy make-up and more and it is all on a budget. Now women with any kind of paycheck can spend less and save more while looking more fashionable that ever.

*A step-by-step guide on what looks chic and what looks cheap.
*Dressing for your body type- The Do’s and Don’ts.
*All the essential makeup, skin care, shoes, accessories and clothing that will never go out of style.
*Hairstyles that are affordable, easy-to-do and will best compliment your face shape.
*Easy-to-do (organic and non organic) ways to pamper your face.
*Outfit ideas for various occasions and much much more!
*A list of affordable yet stylish online beauty and fashion stores to check out.

Now with ‘Style, Chic, Trendy, Cheap’ every woman of every age can afford to look like a million bucks, making her feel both confident and drop dead gorgeous.

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Genre – NonFiction / Beauty & Fashion

Rating – PG

Connect with Elle Campbell on Twitter & GoodReads

Website http://truefashiontrends.com/

Orangeberry Book of the Day - The Angry Women Suite - Lee Fullbright


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Genre – Historical / Psychological Mystery

Rating – PG13

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Connect with Lee Fullbright on Facebook

Website http://leefullbright.com/

The Angry Woman Suite

The Narrators

Resentment and Freedom: Elyse Bowden Grayson, born 1950

Elyse’s circle:

Wilheim Lange (Papa): grandfather

Bean Bowden Grayson: sister

Rose Bowden: paternal aunt

Diana Bowden Grayson: mother

Francis Grayson: stepfather; music prodigy

Aidan Madsen: mentor

Fame and Intemperance: Francis Grayson, born 1928

Francis’ circle:

Lear Grayson: grandfather

Elizabeth Grayson: grandmother

Magdalene Grayson: mother

Stella Grayson: aunt

Lothian Grayson: aunt

Aidan Madsen: mentor; historian; musician

Diana Bowden Grayson: wife

Elena Fitzgerald: lover; singer

Buster Carlyle: friend; musician

Isolation and Reparation: Aidan Madsen, born 1880

Aidan’s circle:

Lear Grayson: business associate; Francis’ maternal grandfather

Magdalene Grayson: Lear’s daughter; Aidan’s love interest; Francis’ mother

Lothian and Stella Grayson: Lear’s daughters

Francis Grayson: Lear’s grandson; Aidan’s second prodigy

Matthew Waterston: artist; friend; business associate

Sahar Witherspoon Waterston: Matthew’s wife

Jamie Witherspoon Waterston: Matthew and Sahar’s son; Aidan’s first prodigy

Sacramento 1955

It is said that love is comfort, and that comfort comes from recognition of the beloved. Papa was the first to tell me this, and if it’s even a little bit true, then I took my comfort for granted, not realizing that one can’t truly appreciate the beloved until one yearns for the comfort to be returned. Even now, when I can’t sleep at night, when I can’t slow the speeding of my heart, when I can’t stop the replaying of what-if’s in my head, I take myself back to that place where cabbage roses dance on walls and my beloved reigns supreme; where I am queen of his heart and he is my comfort, and then and only then do I feel safe.

You’d think it would be enough, being able to conjure up at least a measure of my old, first love. Yet for a long while it wasn’t. Because I was incapable of stanching the nagging questions about my second, almost greater love. Questioning why Francis hadn’t seen the truth of it like Papa had; that the streak I’d struggled with hadn’t been born of badness; that badness wasn’t an intrinsic part of me like my eyes being blue.

But Francis, unfortunately, hadn’t been able to see through things the way Papa had, and that was because Francis had rarely felt safe. You could see it in the way Francis’ eyes got doubtful taking in a room, and the way he was always biting down on his lower lip. The way it looked as if he was always trying to keep himself from crying.

My mother worked days at the PX at Mather, the Air Force base outside Sacramento, and my grandmother and Aunt Rose worked night shifts and slept during the day. That meant it was my grandfather—everybody called him Papa—many years older than my grandmother, and retired, who took care of me. And Bean, too. But my sister Bean, who’d been christened Beatrice Nadine, and called Bea for about two seconds after she was born and then Bean forever after, was still a baby back in the mid-1950's, two years old to my five, and not of much use yet, so it was Papa who was everything: he was my first love. My comfort. He was my playmate and teacher, quick with stories about the little people, quicker to laugh, and even quicker at games, particularly chess and pinochle. He was logical and strategic, and played from the center, something he believed made all the difference in the world, and he was also extremely patient and good-natured. A gentle man, an industrious man, the hardest-working man I’d ever know, he was the one who kept our house going, doing all the cooking and cleaning and lining every inch of dead space—walls, ceilings, cabinets, shelves, trash cans, lampshades, even jars—with pale green paper stamped with those lovely yellow cabbage roses.

Almost better than anything else, though, Papa had known what made people tick. Figuring people out, especially the “dense and complicated” ones, was Papa’s favorite game, ranking even higher than chess and pinochle. And that was because Papa liked stretching a natural talent he had for seeing right through people’s skins, straight onto their pretensions and delusions. For instance, he’d always known me better than I’d known myself, and he’d always been able to see right through Francis. Papa had always known what made Francis tick.

I was proud of my grandfather—and not just because Papa had x-ray vision, looking through people right and left. But also because Papa didn’t look like the grandfathers in my picture books: he wasn’t short, fat, or bald. My grandfather was tall and slim, with muscular arms and shoulders, and lots of blond hair like mine. He told me it was because he’d grown up on a farm that he was so strong, and that after coming to America he’d been in the U.S. cavalry, which helped keep him strong, stationed in San Diego, where he’d hunted down a terribly wicked person called Pancho Villa, outside Arizona. This was during the time of the Great War, and Papa’s heavily accented voice always went solemn when talking about this war in Europe. That’s because it was a huge sorrow he hadn’t been able to go on account of having been born in Germany, where his better-marksmen cousins still lived. Meaning it would’ve been stupider than shit for him to go all the way back to Europe just to get his ass shot off by family, when, Papa said, “I’ve got Familie here willing to shoot my ass off.”

And that’s what I mean. Anyone with a half a brain could see the logic to Papa’s thinking.

My mother and Aunt Rose had many friends, and on the nights that Aunt Rose didn’t have to work, and she and my mother didn’t go out nightclubbing, our little house was filled with strangers and cigarette smoke and jokes I didn’t get; and although I liked it best when it was just family home together, I took Mother and Aunt Rose’s guests in grudging stride, tagging them as dense and complicated subjects for Papa to practice looking straight through. For example, Mother’s friend Ron Leroy was full of shit, talking like he had the world on a string, when anyone with the smarts of a hat rack could see he didn’t know his butt hole from a gopher hole. I giggled nervously when Papa whispered that one in my ear, afraid Mother might overhear. Mother didn’t like nasty talk, and saying “shit,” not to mention “butt hole,” was nasty talk in her book. That nervous laughter, Papa said, smiling. Always watch for that nervous laughter and shifty eyes, checking to see if anyone else is believing their shit. Shifty eyes are a sure, dead giveaway, check.

Betty Harris, Papa whispered next, was dating a wino, and even though she tried kidding herself, she knew, deep down, he was a drunk, but she certainly didn’t want anyone else knowing what she knew. What she wanted was everyone to see her date as a good-time Charlie, meaning no harm. Besides, everyone knew nothing disgusted Betty more than an insensitive scene-stealer. She said so often enough. And Betty was a good judge of character. She said that almost as often as she said Charlie was a man from the right side of the tracks.

Never believe anything anyone says about him or herself was what Papa had to say about Betty Harris. Because when people are talking about themselves they’re generally telling you who and what they wish they were, or what they think you want to hear, not diddly about themselves at all. And, really, they can’t tell you diddly, Papa said, because most people really do not know squat about themselves. People like Betty were ostriches, in for a lifetime of hiding things from themselves, check.

Merv Allen, though, was a prince of a fellow, a real listener, a good game player. He didn’t tell you diddly, which was just fine, because Merv Allen knew diddly squat didn’t count much for winning at games. Merv Allen wanted to beat the game and he would, Papa predicted, because Merv knew that defining the adversary, keeping things to yourself, and letting go of pre-conceived ideas always revealed the weak link, the upper hand, the checkmate.

“Tell everyone you can see right through them,” I’d beg Papa. “It’ll be such a hoot!”

“Ah, Elyse, mein Liebling,” my grandfather would always answer the same way, “you are again not paying attention. I will tell you one more time: I am right only with myself. You must understand I win only in my own mind. Siehst du? When you are right with yourself, it is not necessary to tell the whole world what you think you know.”

Which was the hardest part of playing games, the part I didn’t particularly cotton to, this having to keep one’s brilliance all to one’s self. Not that I would’ve wanted in a million years to be like Betty Harris, yakking people up and boring them silly, and being so dense as to not even know I was doing it. No, what I really wanted was to beat everybody at their own games, but I wanted to do it nicely, like Papa always did. And then I wanted to tell my opponents I’d been on to them since their opening moves. Not to be snotty.

But just because I could.

My mother’s most prized possession was an upright piano she’d bought secondhand. She played beautifully, self-taught, and on those real hot Sacramento nights when we threw the whole house open and let in the smell of jasmine, I sat on Papa’s lap, on our old mohair couch, head against his chest, watching my pretty mother smile and laugh; listening to her music, to Aunt Rose leading our company in singing off-key, and to my grandfather’s heartbeat, taking in deep gulps of his smell, content as if I had good sense.

Looking back, I can’t help wondering if any part of me had sensed that contentment was fickle, coming and going at whim.

I don’t remember the exact night my second daddy joined in on the music, blowing his trumpet, accompanying Mother on piano. I called him Uncle Francis back then. I called all Mother and Aunt Rose’s friends Uncle or Aunt Something-or-other. I still have snapshots from that time, the kind that look as if they’ve been edged with pinking shears, and there’s one of me with Francis, taken after he stopped being my uncle and became my daddy. I know it was taken before Francis became my daddy, because we’re both smiling.

Which meant Francis’ nerves were not yet shot.

Papa loved teasing my grandmother until she hollered; and although he told her stories like he did with me, the stories he told her had more cuss words in them. Grandma, though, could keep up with Papa in the cussing department. When Papa begged Grandma not to smoke, she told him to shut the fuck up, that if she didn’t smoke she’d only get fatter. She was a nurse who worked the hospital graveyard, so with her patients mostly asleep, she wasn’t on her feet much—and Grandma was gargantuan, I’ll give you that. Fat as Papa was slender—but the nice part about being gargantuan, I thought, was that the skin on a fat person’s face stayed near as fine and smooth as Bean’s butt. Fat people didn’t get wrinkly like regular people.

My aunt, who worked in a nightclub, wasn’t nearly as fat as Grandma, but she had Grandma’s same smooth, lovely skin. And when Grandma and Aunt Rose sat at our kitchen table in those early morning hours, in nightgowns, unwinding after working all night, before going to bed to sleep the day away, hair up in pin curls, big bosoms hanging loose and low, playing cards, smoking and hollering, my mother was the one who stood out. Which wasn’t just because my mother was reed-slender with nice high bosoms, or that she was invariably dressed to the nines—and I mean invariably—or that her long dark hair was always just so. No, it was because my mother had beautiful olive-colored skin instead of Grandma and Aunt Rose’s alabaster skin, and she had a look: “Like majesty,” Papa described it, or as Grandma put it, like Mother would prefer choking to death on her own spit before hollering. Mother didn’t actually say she was Queen of the Nile (what Aunt Rose called her): she didn’t have to. Mother’s disdain for the way we lived had a whole life of its own, needing no words, reverberating throughout our kitchen louder than any yelling, shining straight through those fancy outfits of hers she sewed together late into the night.

“Diana,” Grandma would sniff between pinochle hands, cigarette dangling from her lips, this salvo saved for right after Mother was out the door for work, “is a lady. Her shit don’t stink.”

My mother was also a great magazine reader, but Grandma and Aunt Rose read dirty books (Mother said), like “Tropic of Cancer,” and Mother said I was not to go anywhere near their reading material, nor was I to say “damn” just because Grandmother and Aunt Rose did. It was a poor choice of words. And neither was I to go outside without getting dressed first. Until Mother laid down that particular law, it had never occurred to me that getting dressed was a prerequisite for the day. Papa hadn’t mentioned it, and Grandma and Aunt Rose thought nothing of being in bathrobes when people dropped by. In fact, my grandmother was never fully dressed, with brassiere, stockings and shoes on, until she put on her starched nurse’s uniform for work, just as I was going to bed. But ladies, Mother whispered behind our bedroom door, did not get their days and nights mixed up even if it was—no, especially if it was work-related—and neither did they entertain in bathrobes with no lipstick on and hair up in pin curls and bosoms jiggling. They did not smoke standing up, or, God forbid, while walking. They did not pick their teeth with toothpicks, laugh loudly, or drink whiskey out of jelly glasses the way Aunt Rose did, or talk about men all the time, also like Aunt Rose. It said so in those magazines Mother read aloud to me and Bean, as if Bean understood any of this, the same magazines that stipulated the arts of keeping one’s voice well-modulated, the wearing of hats and gloves, what constituted attractive color schemes and table settings, and how many fingertip towels were to be in a well-stocked linen closet. I was pretty sure we didn’t have a linen closet, let alone fingertip towels, but I thought my mother the smartest thing on God’s green earth, knowing so much.

“Not to say your grandmother and Aunt Rose aren’t the real McCoy,” Mother would say, tossing her head and making her dark hair ripple. “Because they are the real McCoy, Elyse. But they show a certain lack of rearing. Now don’t ever tell them I said that,” Mother warned. “It would only hurt Grandma and Aunt Rose’s feelings and that’s not the point. The point is, Elyse, we are not trash.”

My mother told me she’d met Francis before he met her. When I said that sounded silly, Mother said it wasn’t, cross her heart. Francis Grayson had been the country’s most famous bandleader, and everyone in the world had known who he was.

“Uncle Francis, er, Daddy Francis … was famous? Like Santa Claus, you mean?”

“Just ‘Daddy,’ Elyse. Not Daddy Francis. And, yes, pretty much like Santa Claus. Your daddy was very, very famous. Daddy was a star, Elyse. A huge star.”

One night, Mother said, she and Aunt Rose had gone to see Daddy’s orchestra play at the Memorial Auditorium, and it was there, after the show, that they’d been introduced. Properly introduced, Mother stressed. Daddy had invited her and Aunt Rose to dinner, but something had come up and instead of dinner, Daddy had left town.

“Well, then, how’d you and Daddy meet again?”

Some years later, Mother explained, Daddy had joined the Air Force to avoid the draft and he’d been sent to the air base in Sacramento, where, coincidentally, Mother worked. “One night Rose and I went to a dance on the base—oh, this was a year or so after your father …” Mother’s unfinished sentence hung in thin air. She always got sad at the mention of my real father—but she pulled herself together. Her eyes even went dreamy. “Your daddy looked at me, and I looked at him and we both knew. The music started, our song. Your daddy held his arms out and we began to dance. It was glorious! Oh, Elyse, I mean to always dance!”

“Was Daddy very handsome?” I asked, sure we were playing fairytales. My mother was excellent at fairytales. She’d even given me, her idealized firstborn, what she considered a princess name: Elyse Aurora Bowden. Which had to be hard on poor Bean Bowden, though Bean never said so. But that was my sister for you: Bean never was much for talking, or games.

Mother had succeeded in telling me a serious story once, and it was the one about Daddy not being my real father come home. Which of course Papa had already told me. My real father’s name was Stephen Eric, and he was never coming home. Stephen Eric was Bean’s real father, too. But Stephen Eric had died just before Bean had been born, of leukemia. My big, fat grandma was Stephen Eric’s mother, and Aunt Rose was his sister.

“Which makes Grandma my mother-in-law and stepmother,” Mother said. “But Papa is my real father. Do you understand, Elyse? Your grandparents were married to other people before they married each other. Grandma and Papa got married when Stephen Eric and Rose and I were teenagers.” Mother had kissed my forehead with great fanfare, as if I were the most precious thing in the world, even more precious than those princesses in the fairytales she spoke of, who lived in secret silver places that held no loss.

“But … what about your real mother?” I’d asked. “Did she die like my real father died?”

“No. She … left. When I was a little girl. Papa raised me by himself, until he married Grandma. Look, Elyse, some things are unpleasant—there’s no point talking about them.”

I’d no problem with Papa and Grandma having gotten married; that seemed pretty regular, my grandparents being married to each other. And I’d no memory of my tragic real father, although I imagined I must’ve missed Stephen Eric very much when he died. I imagined him as being just like Papa, and I imagined him hating having to leave me behind. But I also imagined it easing Stephen Eric somewhat, knowing he was leaving me and my mother and the new baby in good hands, to my grandparents and Aunt Rose. And, really, it had worked out so well, the timing, what with Papa just retired from the railroad and looking for a new place to hang his and Grandma’s hats, and me and Mother newly alone in the house Stephen Eric had bought just before dying.

“Was Daddy Francis very handsome?” I asked again. “When you met him?” I knew the answer. I only asked because Mother liked the question. “Except for his shorter ear, I mean.”

“Just ‘Daddy.’ And, yes, your daddy was the handsomest man in the world. And there’s nothing wrong with your daddy’s ear. Please don’t bring that up again. Now, Elyse, there’s something else we need to talk about. I think it best if we keep talk of your real father to ourselves. Otherwise, where we’re going, people might think I’ve been divorced and, well … divorce is unacceptable—”


“Besides, having to explain about your real father makes me sad. And it makes your daddy feel funny. Francis Grayson is your father now,” she added with authority. “He’s letting you use his name and I expect you’ll show the proper gratitude. We owe your daddy everything, getting us out of this hell-hole.”

I looked around. I didn’t understand “hell-hole.” Our house was colorful, and Papa had worked hard papering everything with yellow roses. But I did understand these two things: divorce was terrible, like getting the mumps. And my mother wanted me to swear never to tell about Stephen Eric being my real father. She wanted me to pretend to the world that Daddy Francis was my real father. Which was fine enough: it took nothing away from me, living a fairytale to put a smile on my whisper-soft mother’s beautiful face. In fact, I felt benevolent granting Mother her wish, and so I sealed Stephen Eric inside a place in my heart, in a new and hastily structured place reserved for safekeeping rare, unused things, things too important to toss away.

“You never know,” Papa always said, “the things you’ll find a use for. Never, ever throw anything away, mein Liebes. Never, ever, ever.”

Another thing Papa always said was that I wasn’t picky enough about people, the way I went right up to strangers and sat myself down in their laps. He didn’t say this critical-like, because Papa was never critical, just matter-of-fact. Although at the start of things, Francis had been merely an afterthought, another face, another uncle, in Mother and Aunt Rose’s crowd, he’d let me sit on his lap whenever he’d visited, and he’d made Mother laugh and show her dimples and dip her head so that her dark hair rippled, and so of course I’d accepted Francis, no questions asked.

It was a whirlwind thing. One minute Francis was one of my fly-by-night uncles, and the next he had Mother in Reno, marrying her. He moved into our house and made Papa turn quiet, and Bean and I, who’d shared a room with Mother, sleep on the living room couch instead, wedged together like sardines. He was staying. A month later, my new daddy got orders. The Air Force said we had to live in Biloxi, Mississippi. I didn’t understand that my grandparents and Aunt Rose weren’t coming with me to Biloxi. I didn’t understand even when Papa helped Francis load the car with all our things and none of his or Grandma’s or Aunt Rose’s. I didn’t understand until Papa hugged me tight and his voice turned shaky.

“Süsses Mädchen, you will be brave. A year is not a long time. And you will have grand adventure in Mississippi. You will remember everything and tell me of your grand adventure, nein?” I gave a little cry, suddenly understanding.

Papa said quickly, “Listen, Elyse, nothing is black and white in this world, even though we try very hard to make it so. Verstehst du?”

“No,” I moaned.

Papa tried again. “Life is like a ship, Elyse. Sometimes it blows forward, sometimes back. But just when you think your life is sinking, someone rows into the harbor and tosses oranges onto your deck.”

I stopped crying. “Oranges?”

“When I was a boy coming to America, nearly everyone on our ship got sick. We weren’t allowed to dock. It looked bad for us. But when the other German settlers got word of our predicament, they rowed out, bringing bags of oranges with them. They tossed the oranges onto our deck.”

“The oranges made you better?”

“Viel besser. And most of us got well. We made it to shore. And you will make it too, Elyse. Now, chin up. There’s a brave girl.”

I hiccoughed, trying not to cry. Grandma said she wanted to hold me, so Papa passed me to her and I put my cheek against one of Grandma’s arms and watched my tears roll down the notched white fat of it.

“Well, that’s it,” I heard Daddy say for what had to be the billionth time. He rechecked the ropes that held our tarp-covered suitcases and boxes to the top of the car, also for the billionth time, then held out his arms. Grandma handed me over. My immediate future didn’t include choice. “I’ll do right by her,” Daddy promised. “And Bean, too.”

I looked at Papa, beseeching him, but his narrowed eyes were on Daddy, not me, trying to see through Daddy’s “dense and complicated.” I could tell Daddy saw Papa’s disapproving look, because I turned my head just in time to see Daddy’s lips go thin. Thinking Daddy might cry because Papa had hurt his feelings without meaning to, I instinctively put a hand on Daddy’s cheek. “Daddy—” I started, but Mother, using her impatient voice, interrupted, telling Daddy to put me down.

I watched longingly out the back window of the car, until Aunt Rose waving her white hankie disappeared from sight, until my fat grandmother was reduced to a mere speck, until Papa was non-existent—and then I wailed. I wailed with a vengeance. I wailed like nobody had ever wailed before. I keened, rocking back and forth, arms clasped tight around my middle, as if to hold my broken pieces together.

“Let her cry,” Daddy said tenderly some time later, after I’d shuddered into exhausted mewling and Mother had begun sighing her exasperated sigh. Daddy patted her hand. “It’ll work out, Diana. It’s for the best. You’ll see.”

It was then, at Daddy’s tender tone—a gentle man’s voice, a voice that led me to believe he understood—that my heart gravitated toward Daddy and I began to love him, really love him, even while still loving Papa; and it was also then that I resolved to have a grand adventure, not yet understanding that Mississippi is a world apart from California, and that missing people, one in particular, their smells and cussing and a hollering that sounds like love, is not a straightforward thing. Missing someone is a crazy-quilt kind of thing: acceptance one piece, but right above the acceptance patch is another patch, this one made of grief, plus two more grief patches over at the side rising up to slap you down—generally right after you’ve got yourself convinced you’ve figured out the gist of life’s pattern.

And neither did I understand, then, that men could be so different from one another. It took me a long time to work that one out. Probably until Aidan Madsen, the man who brought me oranges and books, was firmly entrenched in my life. Which was about the same time I understood that the crazy patches on my quilt were outnumbered by the saner ones.

And that I would survive.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Here Among Us - Maggie Harryman


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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – R (Strong language, adult themes)

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February, 1970—South Orange, New Jersey



From her narrow bed, Flynn watched the falling snow steadily creeping up the window pane and imagined for a moment, to amuse herself and to pass the time while she waited, that they were not snowflakes at all, but instead grains of salt poured from a great, huge shaker in the sky.

Bathed and pajamaed and fighting sleep, Flynn listened; past Mrs. Gatley’s dog, Princess, whose sharp, quick yip pealed out from the apartment building next door, past the sound of empty trash cans rattling in the distance, past horns honking on the street below and the rumbling of the late train leaving the station, past the jaunty Irish music wafting up from the juke box that played all night just under her bedroom floor, past any and all sound that was not her father’s large booted feet on first one step and then another and another until all eleven steps had been mounted and the door into their apartment swished shut behind him.

Their modest apartment sat atop the bar her parents owned. And while none of the sparsely furnished, high ceilinged boxes that passed for rooms was ugly (dark perhaps, but not ugly) Flynn knew her mother wanted to some day live in “a real home” on one of the tree-lined streets several neighborhoods from the bar where a person could pull a car into a driveway and have a lawn that separated the house from the street, “like civilized people.” Flynn couldn’t see why it mattered where they lived or even how it could make them more or less civilized. For one thing, they didn’t have a car to park in a driveway. For another, she always imagined that the very thing her mother hungered for—the silent nights and the dead quiet streets of distant neighborhoods—would be frightening. Only the bustling noise of the wide street beneath her window made her feel she was safe. Most importantly, if they moved it would not be so easy for her father to step out from behind the long bar he tended each night, a great, tall massive block of wood and brass that seemed to go on forever like a muddy, brown river rolling from one end of the room to the other. Unless they were upstairs, no more than eleven short steps away, he could not climb those stairs each and every night at 8:30 to complete what he always said was far and away his most important task of the day—to tuck them in, hear their prayers and kiss each of them goodnight.

He had the same routine every night. He stopped first in Maeve’s tiny room just behind the kitchen; she was the oldest and that was her father’s argument for starting at the top of the pecking order rather than the bottom. So often it seemed to Flynn that Queen Maeve, as her father called her, enjoyed preferential treatment for a birth order she could not have helped. After closing Maeve’s door, he was off to Osheen’s makeshift room, which was really a large broom closet that had a window so high up it had to be opened and closed using a long wooden shaft with a steel hook on the end. That stop wasn’t entirely fair either as Osheen often went down to the bar on summer nights to spend time with his father and she and Maeve were expressly forbidden by her mother to go near the bar except on St. Patrick’s Day, and then only to put on their costumes and dance for the crowd that faithfully arrived up after the parade in Newark. And although she thought her mother awfully unfair for not letting them into the bar, she agreed with her on one thing; the St. Paddy’s Day crowd of drunks didn’t deserve to see them dance, as half them laughed uproariously even though there was nothing funny about it, and the other half cried as though their own mothers had just died at their feet. Still, she didn’t mind the day so much. After the cold of the parade, the warmth of the bar was delicious and their father snuck them endless bags of chips and Cokes and told anyone who would listen that the O’Shea children could dance the color off a rose. And to see her father’s face when the music stopped and they held up their three hands, clasped tightly together and bowed deep from the waist just as Miss McLeavy at the Irish School on East 41st Street had taught them—she in the middle and Osheen and Maeve on either side—to see that face she loved like no other, lit with a glow like he’d swallowed Michael the archangel, was worth any inconvenience, any outrage, any insult. The only thing better was to return a smile to that face. For that privilege she would have danced for the devil.

She imagined it must have been heavy for him to lift his legs up so many stairs because he was a large man, with arms as thick as tree limbs and hands that made up six of hers and could lift a keg of beer like it was a toy. He was a giant to her, although he regularly told her brother Osheen that he’d be a taller, better man all around. Flynn loved Osheen but couldn’t believe he would ever be a better man than her father no matter what his size or stature. Her father was her best friend, her confidant, the person she told every secret, every joy. Tonight she planned to tell him that Cathy Gold from across the fence had, after a long hiatus, invited herself over and then tried to steal Flynn’s dolls again. Unable to control her rage at Cathy’s cheek and momentarily blinded to reason, she had picked up the shovel her mother had been using to dig a small garden in the yard and hit Cathy square on the back of the head as she was leaving through the gate, pushing Flynn’s carriage in front of her. That part was more confession than conversation but she didn’t think he’d be too angry. In fact, as far as she could tell, he never got angry exactly, only awfully quiet. He’d already been over to the Gold’s apartment once to retrieve a doll that Santa had delivered the Christmas before and he’d told her in no uncertain terms when he’d handed it back that it would be the last time. “It’s up to you to stand up for yourself, Flynn,” he’d said. And so she had.

Then would come the brief discussion about how Maeve was still mean as ever even though she’d taken his advice and tried to be kind to her. Still, she felt compelled to bring such a consistent character flaw to his attention as God might never let Maeve into heaven if she were to die suddenly, which would be long before she got nice, even though her father always said Maeve was nice already, just a bit stern like their mother. Still she would ask him to speak to Maeve directly, not for her sake, of course (she had already proven she could take care of herself), but in the interests of saving his oldest daughter’s immortal soul. Finally she would tell him about her day at school and specifically that the class had been asked by their teacher to think about what they wanted to be when they grew up. When he asked her what she had decided, she’d tell him that no matter what her mother said about it, she would tell her teacher she wanted to own a bar just like her father did and stand behind it and tell stories and pour beer from the tap using just the very tip of her index finger and have endless bags of chips on a rack as high as the ceiling that she could pull off and slide down the length of the bar after the pint she’d just slid, exactly like he did.

All those things would be told, but they’d have to be told quickly because she knew her father’s time was short. Her mother didn’t care for taking over for him in the evenings and especially not on nights like this one when an important boxing match on the radio had packed the place; nights when the men were drunker than usual and the women were, as her mother put it, “conducting themselves in less than ladylike fashion.” That the time was so short was made worse by the fact that she was at the end of the line for goodnights and there was never any persuading him to see her first before Osheen and Maeve no matter how hard she tried.

Finally she heard Osheen’s door close and hers opened and there he was. She loved his face, especially the lines around his eyes that cast out from the corners like the rays of the sun. And when he came in and sat on her bed he wasted very little time tickling the bottoms of her feet and off they went.

“How was your day then, my little beauty?” he asked.

He always called her his little beauty even though everyone knew that Maeve was dozens of times prettier. She began telling about the attempted theft of the doll, to which he struck the flat of his palm on his forehead with a thwack that startled her and said, “Good Lord above, you’ll be in jail for assault,” but the way he said it she knew he wasn’t at all serious, and she just kept talking, past the part about Maeve and straight on to the business about owning the bar. That last bit caught his attention even over the shovel on Cathy Gold’s head.

“You’re mother will never approve.”

“My mother might never approve of anything I do,” she answered, rather defiantly she thought when it had spilled out and for a moment, when his eyes lost a bit of their shine, she was suddenly afraid that she had upset him. The problem was that it seemed like the truth to her, like she’d never be able to please her mother, no matter what she did—even when she got an A in penmanship her mother didn’t seem at all pleased, saying only, “Don’t be too impressed with yourself Flynn. The important thing is to keep it up.” Unable to win when it came to pleasing her mother, Flynn O’Shea had decided she might as well just please herself.

“Your mother has her ideas, I’ll admit, but she wants the best for you. She thinks you have a great brain in that head of yours and she wants you to use it for something besides pourin’ pints. I can’t say I blame her.”

“I know she does, but someday I’ll be grown up, and I won’t have to listen to her opinion on what’s best for me—or anyone else’s—except of course, yours. And you’ll never tell me I can’t run O’Shea’s. I know you won’t.”

His face clouded over and for a moment she actually thought he might consider saying no. “You know how much I love the place, Flynn. I’m proud to hear that someday you’d want to take over the bar.”

“Of course I do, and I’ll wait on you and it will be me who’ll carry the kegs and all you’ll have to do is tell your stories.” And then she threw her arms around his neck and held him as tight as she was able, hoping that just this once, she could be strong enough to keep him there forever because he knew her, he understood her, he was everything to her.

Far too soon he had to go and reluctantly she let her arms go slack around his neck so that the palms of her hands ran along his white shirt, but not before she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “I love you most,” and he whispered back, “you are my sweetest angel, I love you,” and disappeared into the darkness.

Flynn O’Shea was asleep before her father had even opened the door that led down to the bar or touched the first step of the eleven.

And already dreaming long before he had closed O’Shea’s at 2:15 a.m., having waited a bit longer than usual for the wife of his dearest friend to collect her husband; long before Paddy O’Shea had stepped out into a night in which he imagined that if he could reach it, he might hang his hat on the moon, and plowed the tips of his boots through a patch of sidewalk so deep in snow that he laughed the way a child laughs because the white seemed at first miraculous; before that one tiny, defective vessel in his brain burst open like a summer hydrant, spilling blood into every chamber and delivering in its wake a bitter, wrenching, exquisite pain that held within its flood everything he’d ever known or ever would know and just before a soft, warm light enveloped him like a blanket and brought with it an extraordinary peace and joy that he was pleased to acknowledge defied explanation.

And above all Flynn and her brother Osheen and sister Maeve had been overtaken by the sweet sleep that only children can find long before any of the things that were to come could be imagined, and oh so long before any of those things could ever be forgotten.


November, 2007

Chapter One


It wasn’t even noon and already Flynn O’Shea had embarrassed her daughter.

But then, they’d been awake and together since five a.m. and two hours, twenty-three minutes was plenty of time for her only child to roll her eyes and whisper, “why” under her breath. Flynn imagined the why was a prayer formed in desperation to explain her mother and that next, Didi might be forgiven for wondering why the challenge of loving a mother locked in a pitched battle against the world could not have been parsed out between one more—or ideally two more—children. Spread the wealth. Give Didi a chance to lie low while some knock-kneed, boy-crazed sister or macho, perpetually horny brother took the brunt of a single parent, forever in a state of agitation. Flynn admitted these were fair questions. She certainly wasn’t the perfect parent she’d envisioned being when her beloved only child was born. Just the week before she had come home to find Didi sobbing in the shower and hadn’t even had the courage to ask her why. An embarrassing, ineffectual, middle-aged coward.

When had Flynn become that mother?

Keep moving, keep moving, Flynn told herself and dragging her tattered black suitcase behind her, hurried after Didi who was headed for the United check-in line, having abandoned her mother to lecture the shuttle driver who was fifteen minutes late picking them up.

“All I’m saying is, it’s no way to run a business,” Flynn complained.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Barbed-Wire Butterflies by Jessica Kristie


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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – PG

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A New Truth

Loud noises banging from the trunk didn’t even make the two men flinch. It was an all too familiar sound. They traveled down a long dirt road toward what seemed, to the untrained eye, to be an abandoned warehouse. The town car didn’t fit the road traveled, but it had been there many times before.

The thumping had finally subsided as they pulled near the desolate building. Quickly, they passed through the guarded entrance and could see another man waiting in his dark green clothing, waving them forward. The large wall receded up, opening into what looked to be an airport hangar. Several small planes, cars, and other equipment were parked inside. The two men got out of their vehicle and walked to the back of the car. The taller man turned to his partner and grinned while he unlocked the trunk.

Inside lay a thirteen-year-old girl, still passed out from the drugs she had been given steadily over the last few days. Her body was twisted from being knocked around during the three-hour trip from the hotel to the warehouse.

“Another one,” the shorter man said with a half-hearted laugh.

“The second one this month; I wonder what’s up,” the shorter one responded.

“It ain’t our business to ask. Let’s just get her in here and get out. I want to get home before four a.m. this time.”

“You take the feet and let’s get a move on.”

They each did their part and carried the young girl to the door where a gurney and two other men were waiting. They placed her on the rolling bed and headed back to their vehicle. It was as easy as that, and they were done. The town car drove off into the night, not to return until another package was to be delivered.

In her unknown destination and an hour after delivery, Elani Benjamin woke up. With confused, red-rimmed eyes and blurry vision, she could make out a tall woman hovering over her. The woman had long red hair and a much-too-wrinkled face to be in her forties. She was dabbing Elani’s forehead with a cold, wet wash cloth knowing full well the young girl would protest soon.

“Where . . .” Elani tried to make sense of her words and surroundings, her head still foggy from the last few days. She darted up from the gurney and scanned the room for something, anything familiar. A nauseous feeling tugged at the lining of her stomach.

Everything was concrete, or white painted over concrete. The room smelled sterile but unclean at the same time. Confused about how she got there, she closed her eyes and tried to remember. The last thing that came to her was stopping at a Quik Stop for something before heading home.

“Elani, I’m Jolene. I need you to keep calm while I explain where you are. Please try and control yourself so you don’t upset the other girls when I put you in your new room.” Jolene paused for a response. “Do you hear me, girl?”

“How do you know my name?” Elani pleaded to Jolene with surprise and a growing concern.

“We know everyone we bring here to The Hub. It’s our job to know who we’re dealing with.”

“Where’s my mom? Does my dad know I’m here?”

“Look, girl. I’m just going to tell you like it is. This is your new home. What you will have is a bed, food, and work. It’s not much, but that’s what it is. Now change into this so I can bring you to your new room.” Jolene threw a blue sweat suit at Elani that was stenciled with an L, along with some old, worn sneakers, and then lifted her hands in a quick attempt to get her going. Elani slowly pulled the clothes toward her and reluctantly changed.

“Here, put your clothes in this. You won’t be needing them anymore. We all just wear the same thing,” Jolene said as she held a plastic bag in front of her.

“I want to go home,” Elani said, panic rising in her voice.

“That’s what you say now, but things will change,” Jolene quickly responded, in hopes to diffuse the pending breakdown. “You’re a big girl, you can do this.”

“I don’t want to do this. I don’t even know what this is,” Elani snapped with tears forming in her big blue eyes. She used her sleeve to rub the salty drops from her face and nervously pushed her dark hair behind her ear.

“Girl, we gotta get a move on. We don’t have time for this. The quicker you realize what is happening here, the easier it gets. I’ve been here for twenty-two years and I ain’t got no qualms about that.”

“What?” Elani was shaking. “I can’t go home, ever? What about my mom and my brother? My brother needs me. I need to get back home.”

“Your brother is fine. Your mom is fine. They will learn to get on without you. Now get dressed and let’s be going.” Jolene was losing her patience and it was obvious she had been through this routine too many times before.

Elani’s heart plummeted in her chest as the lack of control sunk in. She retreated to silence, feeling she might pass out from terror. She had no clue what these people wanted or what new future was being laid out without her permission. It all felt too unreal to comprehend.

She finished changing her clothes and surrendered her old life in a small plastic bag to Jolene. Jolene led her through several dimly-lit corridors with four doors on each side. Each hallway reminded Elani of pictures she had seen on television of the rooms for inmates of a mental-health facility. Small windows, about three inches wide, served as the room’s only peek outside of the personal cells. Elani’s mind was racing. Was this a prison? Had she done something to get put in juvenile hall? She knew of several kids in her neighborhood who had been to juvie, but from what she remembered, the kids went to court first.

Elani was always a fairly good kid. She had never done anything that deserved this kind of punishment. She tried not to shake, and watched Jolene as she stoically continued to lead her down dirty pathways with no hint of natural light to be found.

Finally, after several minutes of walking, they reached a long hallway that was just the same as all the others they had passed. The only difference was a large L stenciled at each entrance. “This is you, girl. L17.” Jolene reached into her pocket and pulled out the biggest ring of keys Elani had ever seen. “You are locked in at all times. We can’t have you girls trying to run about, now. Just keep your head straight and do what you’re told. You got that, girl?” Jolene asked as she unlocked the door and ushered Elani into her tiny room.

“Yes ma’am,” Elani said without thinking.

“Good girl, Elani. That will do. Now meet your bunkmates: Sophie, Jada, and Isabel. They are all nice girls who like being here. You get right, like them, and you’ll be fine.” Jolene turned to the girls in the room, “This is Elani. Tell her what she needs to know.” She then turned back to Elani to confirm she understood.

Elani nodded in confused agreeance as she surveyed the room. There were two sets of metal bunk beds on each wall. The two-foot space between the beds held a single garbage can. To the right of the door was a frayed sheet thrown over a rusted metal frame, serving as a space divider. It seemed to be covering a small toilet and a sink. Elani cautiously moved further into the room and stood there in complete disarray. She was jolted to reality as she heard the heavy door close loudly behind her. Jolene was gone.

“You can have the bed over there,” said a small girl on the bottom bunk across from what was now to be her permanent bed. “I’m Sophie, I’ve been here awhile. About six months, as far as I can tell. I’m trying to keep track but wonder what the point is sometimes.”

Sophie had green eyes and blonde hair. Here hands where tiny, and fit her small frame. She was far too young to be in a place like this and Elani could tell it had aged her too quickly, just like the rest of the girls.

“Where is here?” she asked in a once-again growing panic.

“The Hub,” said the girl in the top bunk above Sophie. “I’m Jada. Been here awhile now, too; it ain’t so bad. Better than what I had before, I guess.” Jada was obviously the oldest. The one who attempted to keep the peace. She had dark brown skin and jet-black hair with beautiful big brown eyes. Her hair, like all the girls, looked matted and dirty.

“Before?” Elani asked.

“Yeah, before they brought me here. I was pretty much livin’ on the streets or from foster home to foster home. Now, I get my own bed and at least one meal a day.” Jada attempted to be reassuring but her sullen gestures gave the truth away.

“Don’t you miss home, though? This isn’t right,” Elani protested. “We shouldn’t be here. I want to go home.”

Tears forced their way down her burning red cheeks and she collapsed on her bed holding her knotted stomach and aching muscles.

“Hey now, don’t upset the other girls. I know it’s weird but you get used to it quick,” explained Jada. “It gets better, I promise. Hopefully the worst is over.”

“I don’t want it to get better. I just want to get back home. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“You’re here to work,” chimed in a new voice she hadn’t yet heard. “I’m Isabel, and we are all here to work.” A thick Hispanic accent escaped her lips and she twisted her dark hair anxiously. Her brown eyes were bulging slightly from her head and she was far less confident than Jada when she spoke.

“To work? I’m only thirteen, why would I have to work?” Elani said through her blanket of tears.

“That’s why we’re brought here; to work,” Isabel said in a quiet and comforting voice.

Jada jumped in, “You are now a part of what you may have heard called a sweat shop. It’s a place where people are forced to work. We make things like clothes, and put together phones and stuff like that, whatever they tell us to do. We always do what they tell us to do. It’s better that way.”

“So we are here just to work, nothing else? Why would anyone do that?”

“Because it’s cheap and people are greedy. I was fifteen when they took me, and I already knew what nasty things people did for money. Or to save money. I’ve been here a year or so and I don’t mind it. This place is different than most. From what I’ve heard, we get treated pretty damn good compared to other places like this,” Jada tried to reaffirm.

“Why? Why would they treat us good? They kidnapped us and threw us in a cement box to never see our families again. How is that good, anyway?” Elani said, her eyes welling with tears again.

Listening to them talk, she was slowly realizing these kids were brainwashed. Trained to say what The Hub needed them to say, and do what they were told to do. Fear was sharp and palpable from wall to wall.

“There’s not a lot of conversation that goes on here. We all stay pretty quiet, but sometimes we hear the leaders or guards talking. From what I know, they pick people who need a place to stay and food to eat. They don’t really care if we’re happy, but want us to be content enough to stay, or . . . I guess . . . not fight staying. I don’t know how many have tried to break out, but from what I’ve heard, no one has,” Jada explained.

“So this is my life, then?” Elani wimpered.

“This is your life,” Jada said with little comfort.

With that new and shocking information, Elani rolled over into her pillow and tried to hold herself to sleep. The other girls peered over at her from their beds.

Isabel looked down at Elani from the bed above to try and offer one last round of comfort. She pulled herself back up when it became clear there was nothing she could say. Isabel had been there once, too, and the fear never really went away. The girls all lay back in their beds as the room went dark. It was lights out for the night.

Elani was frozen in the dark hoping this was some bizarre slip in reality that would be rectified come morning. Her emotional wounds dug deep under her skin making it difficult to breath. She thought that any moment she might lose consciousness, but almost welcomed it. She buried her face in the flat pillow that sat on her sagging mattress. Everything reeked of dirt, sweat, and fear. The salty tears that crawled inside her mouth served as some familiar comfort. The confusion was unbearable and shock took over. Elani fell into a sleep as her body shut down. She hoped that the morning would prove this was all but a bad dream, and nothing more.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – Demon Inhibitions (Caitlin Diggs) by Gary Starta

Chasing a soul stealer in her reality, psychic investigator Caitlin Diggs inadvertently travels through a portal to another reality and witnesses her fugitive kill her alternate self in DEMON INHIBITIONS. Assuming her alternate’s life as an agent of the FBI’s Preternatural Crime Division, Diggs believes her position might help her capture the soul stealer until she finds he may be part of a sinister terrorist plot to keep humans and demons living in segregation. A girl, whose singing inhibits the evil urges of demons, is on the terrorist’s hit list and Diggs will ultimately learn her fugitive is neither supernatural nor demon, but a genetically engineered hit man incapable of being enthralled.

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Genre – Urban Fantasy

Rating – PG13

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Orangeberry Book of the Day - The Learner by Alan Nayes (Excerpt)


NayéLi has come from the dark side of the universe to learn as much as she can about the third planet from the sun, and to communicate her findings back to her home world. NayéLi is a Learner – and on Earth she assumes the form of a young human female of the indigenous host species.

NayéLi is bound by her rulers’ strict laws of planetary exploration, which state that there can be no involvement with a member of the host species. But NayéLi is more human now than she realizes. And she is about to fall in love.

THE LEARNER is the first book in the paranormal Learner Series.

132,000 words or approximately 450 pages.

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Genre – Sci Fi / Paranormal Romance

Rating – PG13

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Alan Nayes


He is coming for me.

I have no clue how I know this—a premonition has never happened to me in this manner before—I just do. My species is powerful. Far more powerful than my hosts; nevertheless, we are unable to read minds, nor can we predict the future. Still, the perception that I am about to be discovered is undeniable.

If I hadn’t been on this particular bus, none of what’s about to happen would be affecting me. And if I hadn’t passed out, he never would have found me. For one of only a few times during my sojourn here on Earth, I experience a profound unease. Even fear. And intense unremitting pain.

He is going to find me. This is inevitable. I’m unable to move. Escape, impossible. I’m too incapacitated. Yet somehow I must save myself, preserve my being; otherwise, I’ll be forced to leave before my time here is done.

I have no choice, I tell myself. My rulers would order, “NayéLi, leave your body.”

And I would say, “No.”

Let him find me.

What concerns me most, though, more than being discovered, is that I harbor no inkling of what will happen next.

Just that it will change…everything!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Orangeberry Free Alert – Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson



‘So ridiculously amazing, I can’t take it’ ~ Gabe Berman, Author ‘Live LIke A Fruit Fly

‘Engrossed. It is a grippingly brilliant work’ ~ Frank Feather, author and blogger

‘Any woman who has had a former lover (or two or three) will be able to relate to this. Her writing is very poetic.’ ~ LS Hullinger, reader, writer

‘A brilliant and intense must read’ ~ Jeffery Rowan, reader

Out less than three weeks, Broken Pieces already hit the Paid Top 10 list on Women’s Studies!

Welcome to bestselling author Rachel Thompson’s newest nonfiction work! Vastly different in tone from her previous essay collections A Walk In The Snark and The Mancode: Exposed, BROKEN PIECES is a collection of pieces inspired by one woman’s life: love, loss, abuse, trust, grief, and ultimately, love again.

This is NOT a humor book! It IS a book about relationships, a study of women, a book with heart.Want to see why people love it? Why they call it ‘riveting, powerful, insightful?’

Read it and see why Broken Pieces is tearing up the lists for Nonfiction, Women’s Studies, and books for women!

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Genre – NonFiction

Rating – PG13

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Orangeberry Book Tours – Be Careful What You Wish For (Saga of the New Gods) by Daniel Black

The time has come, Hells gates shall be thrown wide and the power of creation shall run rampant upon the earth.

In this, the first book of the “Saga of the New Gods,” a group of young college students bring about Armageddon in the most literal sense of the word. With a simple wish upon a unique wedding band given to him by his love, Michelle, Adam unleashes a power that could – if left to reign unchecked – destroy the entire world…

The story begins with a couple of young women, Chelsea and Michelle, bearers of a tragic past, fighting to create a future for themselves. They travel to an old pawn shop in the town of Athens, Ohio, and purchase a ring for Michelle to give to her love, Adam, in the hopes of becoming his wife. A poorly timed wish after the gift of the ring has dire consequences however, as magic enters the world. All that they know, or have known, begins to come unraveled as first their comfortable existence in this bucolic town is ripped from them, then their future. They reach their moment of greatest despair as one of their number flees, another lays near death, and another sleeps in a state akin to a coma… In this moment of vulnerability a man arrives offering a glimmer of hope, Mathew Banks, a federal officer, arrives with the dawn to take them to a place of safety and security. But what is secure when the very laws that govern reality begin to unravel? What is safe when those who watch over you risk change from day to day, moment to moment, and even those who are your closest friends deceive you and risk more than your lives, but the very souls that make you who you are?

This first story tells the tale of the creation of this new world, as the series continues you will rise to the heights of this world and others, and to the very depths of hell.

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(soon available as an audio book)

Genre – Dark Fantasy

Rating – R

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Orangeberry Book of the Day - Refuge by NG Osborne (Excerpt)


Kabul – February 1981


“NOOR‌—‌NOOR, MY love, please get up.”

Noor opens her eyes to find her mother crouched over her, her mother’s lantern just bright enough to bathe her face in a warm glow. Noor fights the urge to go back to sleep.

“The Russians are coming,” her mother says.

Noor’s eyes snap open, and she swings her feet onto the cold stone floor.

“Wait,” her mother says. “Put these on first.”

Her mother holds out a set of clothes. It’s only now that Noor realizes her mother is wearing a shalwar kameez.

“Mamaan, do I have to?”

“Think of it as a disguise.”

That at least makes it palatable.

“Now quick,” her mother says, “we’ve no time to waste.”

Her mother hastens away. Noor pulls her pajamas off and grabs the first article of clothing, a pale green kameez.

“You ready?” a voice hisses.

Noor clutches her kameez to her chest. Her brother, Tariq, stands in the doorway, holding a lamp of his own, his shadow looming behind him.

“Get out, I’m dressing,” she says.

“Nothing to see,” Tariq smirks.

“Not the point.”

“Well hurry up.”

Noor waits for Tariq to leave before slipping on the kameez and the baggy shalwar pants. She shoves her feet into her tennis shoes and takes off at full tilt. She finds everyone in the kitchen, their faces lit by the flickering light of the stove. Her Aunt Sabha is crying, and her sobs only intensify upon seeing Noor.

“Oh my sweet, sweet girl. When will we see you again?”

“You’ll come and see us in America,” Noor says.

“That’s right, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Aunt Sabha sweeps Noor into her ample bosom.

“Do you have the letter from Doctor Abdullah?” her Uncle Aasif asks her father.

“The letter?” her father says.

“Good God, Aamir,” her mother snaps, “the introduction to the American Ambassador.”

Her father searches his jacket pockets and emerges with a crumpled envelope.

“Give it to me,” her mother says snatching it away.

Her mother looks around.

“Where’s Bushra?”

“She’s awake,” her father says.

“But was she out of bed when you left her?”

It’s clear from her father’s expression that Bushra wasn’t.

“Noor, go and get your sister now,” her mother says.

Noor grabs a lantern and sprints back upstairs. She finds her older sister asleep, her shalwar kameez lying undisturbed beside her. Noor shakes her.

“Bushra, you’ve got to get up.”

Bushra groans and draws her covers close. Noor rips them off and yanks Bushra out of the bed.

“The Russians are coming to arrest Baba,” Noor says.

Bushra yelps and jumps to her feet.

“We’ve got to go,” Bushra says

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Bushra scrambles into her shalwar kameez, and the two of them run out the room. Noor halts outside her bedroom door.

“Keep going, I’ll be right there.”

Noor enters her room and takes one last look around; at the doll’s house her father built last Eid and which, to her eternal guilt, she hasn’t played with once; her posters of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova; her pet rabbit Bjorn, sitting up in his cage, his nose twitching. She thinks about setting him loose but knows he wouldn’t last more than a day before becoming someone’s dinner. She puts a finger through the mesh and rubs his forehead.

“I’ve got to go, Bjorn. A long way away, but I’ll always love you, remember that.”

Bjorn’s ears prick up; outside some cars screech to a halt. Doors open, and a man yells out commands in Russian. Noor sprints out of the room and back downstairs.

“They’re here,” she screams.

Aunt Sabha lets out a shriek. Booming thuds reverberate from the front door.

“I’ll delay them,” Uncle Aasif says. “Now go, go.”

Noor’s mother grabs Noor’s hand, and they run out of the kitchen across the snow covered courtyard, past the ancient apricot tree that, to Noor’s eternal triumph, she climbed higher than Tariq the week before. Her mother tugs her into the dusty old servants’ quarters past the laundry room with its wooden washboards and iron ringer and up to a large metal door. Her mother yanks it open and pulls Noor into an alley where a donkey and cart await.

“Why aren’t we taking the Oldsmobile?” Noor says.

“It’s too conspicuous.”

Her mother grabs Noor by the waist and throws her up onto the straw. Tariq and Bushra bundle in beside her while her parents sit up front. Her father clicks his tongue, and the donkey starts plodding forward.

“Put this on, Bushra,” her mother says.

She holds out another article of clothing: it’s a burqa. Bushra complies, and her mother puts on one of her own. Noor shivers. They look like jinns sent to steal her soul. Tariq nudges her.

“You scared?” he says.

“Course not.”


Her mother hisses at them to be quiet. Noor looks towards the end of the alley. Despite the early hour, the street beyond is already bustling with traffic.

“Faster,” her mother says.

Her father urges the donkey on, but if anything the donkey seems to slow.

“We’re a simple peasant family from Aynak,” her mother says. “If we’re stopped let your father do the talking.”

“But what if they ask us questions?” Noor says.

“They won’t.”

“But what if they do?”

“Then only speak Pashtu. If they speak to you in English pretend you don’t understand.”

A car pulls into the alley its round headlamps lighting the morning mist a garish yellow.

Her father and mother stiffen.

Noor squints; in the glare it’s impossible to tell who’s inside. The car honks and she senses her parents relax; she assumes if it were Russians they’d have gotten out by now. Her father looks over his shoulder to see if he can back up.

“Don’t you dare,” her mother says.

The car nudges forward, but for once the donkey’s obstinacy works to their advantage. After some virulent honking the driver puts the car into reverse. The donkey keeps pace, as if galvanized by its victory.

Noor hears shouts behind them and twists around to see four men emerging from the back of their house.

“Stop,” one shouts.

Her mother grabs the reins from her father and whacks the donkey as hard as she can.

“Stop right now, or we’ll shoot,” another yells.

The men pull guns from their holsters.

“Children, get down,” her mother shouts.

Her mother grabs a hold of Noor and shoves her into the straw. Shots ring out, and Noor clenches her eyes shut.

Her mother yells at the donkey to keep going, there’s another crackle of gunfire. The din of traffic and the sweet scent of petroleum fumes engulfs them.

Noor opens her eyes; her brother’s crotch is inches from her, a dark urine stain smearing the front of his pants. She rises up onto her elbows and sees the owner of the car shake his fist at them before accelerating back down the alley. Her mother hands the reins to Noor’s father.

“Turn right on Chicken Street,” she says panting.

She looks back at her children.

“Is everyone alright?”

Tariq sits up doing his best to hide his piss stain with a handful of straw. He catches Noor looking at him and reddens. They turn down Chicken Street with its souvenir shops and restaurants. Bushra lies on the straw moaning.

“Bushra, are you alright?” her mother says.

“Yes, Mamaan.”

“Then sit up.”

They come to the end of the street and merge onto another bustling thoroughfare. A convoy of Soviet armored personnel carriers rumbles towards them. Noor holds her breath. One of the helmeted gunners stares at her: the days of the soldiers pretending to be their friends are long gone. The final personnel carrier passes by, and Noor thinks it permissible to breathe again. She looks at Zarnegar Park, the Mir Abdul Rahman Tomb’s dull, copper dome framed by the snow covered mountains. She wonders if she’ll ever see it again.

The cart hits a pothole. It sends Noor tumbling forward and elicits a pained groan from her mother. Noor puts a hand on the floor and feels something damp. At first she assumes it’s Tariq’s urine, but when she brings her hand up she sees it’s stained with blood. She notices her mother is bent over.


“Yes, my love.”

“Are you alright?”

Her mother doesn’t answer. Her father looks across.

“What’s the matter?” he says.

Her mother pulls up the front of her burqa. Even in the pale light of dawn Noor can see her mother’s kameez is soaked in blood. Noor cries out.

“Shh,” her mother says, “don’t draw attention to us.”

Up ahead, just before the turn for the river, a group of Russian soldiers have set up a checkpoint. The traffic slows. Her father yanks on the reins and tries to turn the cart around. It’s impossible, a bus is right behind them.

“They’ll see me,” her mother says to her father.

“No, just stay where you are. We will be past this at any moment, and we will go find a doctor.”

“Aamir, it’s too late for that.”


The cart edges forward, and her mother rests her burqa on top of her head. Her cheeks, so rosy even in the coldest weather, are drained. She looks at each of her children as though she wants to burn their images into her soul.

“I love you all,” she says, “more than you’ll ever know.”

“No,” Tariq screams.

Up ahead a soldier looks in their direction. Tariq wraps his arms around his mother.

“Don’t go, don’t go,” he says.

Her mother strokes his hair and whispers into his ear. The cart trundles forward again; they’re now only three vehicles away from the checkpoint.

“Please, Aamir,” her mother says.

Her father stares at her, unwilling to grasp what’s unfolding in front of him.

“For their sake,” she says.

Somehow he manages to nod. Her mother leans forward and kisses her father on the forehead.

“I love you, Aamir,” she says. “Look after them for me.”

She extricates herself from her son’s grasp, and Noor’s father wraps his arms around Tariq. Tariq fights back, his legs kicking out, his arms flailing.

“Take the reins,” her mother says to Noor.

Noor scrambles into the front seat. Her mother grabs her by shoulders.

“Never compromise who you are. You hear me?”

Her mother places the reins in Noor’s hand and pushes herself off the cart. Noor looks back. Her mother lies there in the street, blood already staining the snow around her. With whatever life she has left she struggles back up onto her feet. Tariq breaks free and crawls to the back of the cart.

“Mamaan,” he screams. “Mamaan.”

Her mother looks stricken. From beneath her burqa she pulls out the envelope containing Dr. Abdullah’s letter. She collapses on the ground, and a woman in the bus behind lets out a piercing shriek. Soon soldiers are running past them until her mother’s body is lost amidst a sea of green uniforms. With the checkpoint no longer manned the donkey picks up its pace. The road bends to the left, and soon the checkpoint is out of sight.

Noor turns back and sees her father’s eyes are brimming with tears. In the back her brother lies on the straw sobbing while her sister sits immobile as a statue. Noor takes her father’s hand in hers, gives the donkey a whack with the reins, and they continue on out of the city.

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Genre – Literary Fiction / Romance

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.ngosborne.com/