St. Charles at Dusk started as a standalone story, but since then I have written several additional stories about the two central families, the Sullivans and Deschanels. This has turned into a series, The House of Crimson and Clover, and I am currently working on editing the second book, The Storm and the Darkness for publication in 2013.
I’ve decided to post the prologue for St. Charles at Dusk (approximately 600 words), in several installments here on the blog. Depending on how that goes, I may consider posting more of it as well. Obviously it goes without saying that everything I post here is my own creation and is copyrighted. Please do not reblog these entries without permission, however you are welcome to leave comments, and I always answer all of them.
PROLOGUE (Installment 2 of 4)
Present, Summer 2001
“I’m so sorry Oz.”
I turned to see my father Colin under a plaid umbrella with my mother Catherine, who seemed to have aged ten years overnight. Janie’s suicide had really affected my mother. Of all the girls I had dated in my twenty-six years, Janie was really the only one my mother wanted as a daughter-in-law. From the day she introduced us, I know she was already seeing the wedding: Janie and I exchanging vows, the first dance, shoving cake in each other’s faces. Janie’s own mother had died when she was four.
“Oh darling…” my mother sobbed and knelt down in the gravel in front of Naomi. “How is she?”
“I don’t know how to explain this to her.”
She looked such the young lady; when you met her thoughtful gaze it was easy to forget how little she actually was. At my age, I still didn’t fully understand the meaning and impact of death, not the death of someone close to me. I didn’t know the magical words that would explain it as a part of life rather than something that would plague us for years to come. How could I possibly try to make it any easier on Naomi?
“Oz, your mother and I were talking last night.” My father exchanged a glance with my mother, one I wasn’t sure I liked. It was the look I saw often when I was still living at home. One that typically preceded them making a decision for me that I usually disagreed with, and usually ended up allowing for one reason or another.
As always, I let them talk. I hadn’t the energy to do much else.
“Given the circumstances, maybe you and Naomi could stay with us for awhile. It might help if you didn’t have to watch her all the time. She’s just starting to walk and it’s a huge responsibility you don’t need right now. You know, just for awhile until you can collect your own thoughts-”
“Dad, no. She needs me right now, and needs to be in her own house. She’s never going to see her mother again, and it would confuse her and scare her if we took her away from what she was used to.” I pulled Naomi closer to my side, protectively. I didn’t say it, but I needed her. I needed to coddle her, and somehow make it up to her. I needed to be close to her so that I could mourn her mother too.
Because you are afraid that only the sight of your daughter’s pain can bring you sadness over Janie’s death.
My mother cupped my face in her warm hands and kissed my forehead. “Colin, you are so young, and I fear that this experience will change you forever.”
My mother called me Colin, my given name, only in times of crisis- or, more specifically, at times when she felt a loss of control; an inability to fix something, or add assistance. I knew that in her heart she was already staging an intervention for me, but even that was beyond her ability at this point. There were times that even a mother’s touch could not heal wounds.
The rain came down harder, and the rest of the mourners were rushing to get out of Metairie Cemetery. My mother picked Naomi up, who was now sobbing uncontrollably and started carrying her to the car as if I had already given in. All the sadness of the day had finally taken its toll on her and she was the picture of pure exhaustion.
When I made no move to seek shelter from the rain, I felt my father take my arm. “Oz, come on, let’s go home son.”
I didn’t look at him. With the crowd dissipated, I could see her family’s tomb clearly now. Her will had clearly expressed her unbending refusal to be entombed at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 where my family had been interred for generations, choosing instead to lay in rest in the Metairie neighborhood she was raised in. This had been a bone of contention between us in the last months of her life, as we sat in front of the stoic lawyer and divvied up our future. My future.
Right under her grandmother’s name, I saw the placard that we had made several weeks earlier. They were words that I morbidly imagined I would see embossed in my mind forever. Words of sadness? Regret? Guilt?
Janette Lynn Masters-Sullivan
Beloved Mother, Wife, Sister, and Daughter
“Give me a few minutes. I’ll meet you at home.” Although I didn’t turn around, I knew that my father was standing there for several minutes before I heard him turn to leave.
As I stared at the tomb, and the words on my dead wife’s epitaph rolled over and over in my mind, I allowed myself to cry freely. It was something that crowds of friends and family had not allowed me to do. Yet I didn’t know if my tears were any different than the contagious ones that Naomi had cried.
Why like this? Anything but this. “You don’t understand what it’s like!” She screamed at me the last time I saw her. “You are going to be here to see her graduate, to see her get married! Damn you, Oz!”
In all the commotion, no one but I had realized that today would have been our one-year anniversary. How dark and symbolic this day would always be now. We had been married right after Naomi was born because Janie had wanted to look good in her wedding dress. I always told her she would look beautiful no matter what. She was beautiful, always.
But that wasn’t enough for you, was it? Nor was her kindness, or intelligence, or wit, or anything else that she gave to you without reserve.
As I turned to leave my wife, I had the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. It occurred to me that I had felt it all throughout the service, but had been too consumed to notice or really care.
“Hello?” I called out.
I heard the rustle of leaves and a twig snap. A squishing of footprints in the flooding Louisiana ground mud. I turned to the direction of the sound and saw a figure advance from behind another family’s tomb. In the shadows, I could tell that it was a woman’s figure.
As she walked forward, I knew immediately. For, in front of my very eyes after all this time, stood the last person I expected to see on this day. The last person I ever expected to see at all, at any point again in my life. Thoughts of her had almost prevented my marriage to Janie (certainly prevented you from loving her properly), who had had no inkling that this woman even existed, let alone what role she had played in my life. I had carefully seen to that.
I could not believe she was there.
She had on a long black mourning cloak, so typical of a distinguished Southern woman, for a woman was what she was now; the hood engulfing all but a few rebel strands of her long, thick red hair. But it was her eyes, those two cobalt orbs staring back at me from under the cloak that seemed to almost glow from behind the shadows.
Her voice was soft and inviting, but what compelled me to approach her was not what was left of my love for her, if any even existed, but the need to believe that I was wrong, that I had loved Janie. That after spending a few moments with her that I would realize that it was my own fears that had held me back, not a lack of love and devotion for my wife. And if I was wrong…well, I could do Janie no greater justice than my own misery. I would not fall into this girl’s arms, but I would this time walk away and be done with this charade forever.
In bringing closure to both chapters of my life, I could enter the next one alone, with Naomi. The timing was not ideal, but, then, timing never was.
It was my first moment of clarity since Janie died.