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 3 of 4)
Present, Summer 2001
She pulled off the cloak and carelessly tossed it across the back of my leather sofa in the sitting room. Neurotically, I was one step behind her, wiping the raindrops off of the couch and hanging her cover on the oak coat rack, where it belonged.
“Some things never change,” she whispered, under her breath, voicing my own thoughts.
When she didn’t wipe her feet, or make any indication of removing the muddy shoes, I politely asked her to do just that and ignored the roll of the eyes she sent in my direction.
On the ride over to the house I owned in the Garden District, neither one of us said a word. She stared out the passenger window; I stared straight ahead. My thoughts were a slideshow of the past few days, every scene playing out in Technicolor, slightly surreal but happening to an outsider, not me. I could not guess at her thoughts.
I placed a call to my father, letting him know that I needed some time to tend to my thoughts and would be over in the morning. He sounded relieved.
I went to go put on a pot of coffee, but my eyes never left her as I rinsed out the dusty filter and scooped up two spoonfuls of the only grounds I had in the cupboard. I was grateful I had them at the moment, though I would most likely send them out with the trash on Tuesday. Janie was the coffee drinker, not I.
She flitted from the bookshelf to the mantel, perusing the archive of photos we had taken to preserve Janie’s memory. She did this in a way that was completely full of interest, but betrayed no true emotion. She could have been looking at her English professors’ credentials.
When the doctor delivered the news that Janie would not be around to see Naomi grow into a woman, we purchased a top-of-the line camera with all the bells and whistles a lawyer’s income could buy. We took over fifty rolls of film in a three-month period, before she had become so sick with the cancer that she didn’t want any more pictures taken. The house was currently enshrined to Janie. This way, Naomi would never have to look far to see her mother.
And you can simply torture yourself without really having to address the issue.
“How do you take it? Black, sugar, cream?” I asked her as the coffee pot chimed and announced its finish. The purchase of said coffee pot/espressos maker was a departure from my normally frugal spending habits. It was the lesser of two evils with Janie, who had an affinity for four dollar lattes. By the time we unpacked it, however, her diagnosis was certain and she gave up coffee altogether. Something compelled me not to return it to the store, or even put it in the pantry for storage. Most likely it had been the sense of finality, as if to say, “Well, you won’t be needing this anymore.”
She smiled. It was a careful smile. “You know how I take it.”
I supposed I did, but such knowledge was no longer welcome in the front of my mind.
“It’s been a long time.”
She turned back around to the mantel and fingered over a picture of us on our honeymoon in Corsica.
In this particular photo, Janie had run out from the beach, splashing into the warm waters of the Mediterranean. I had followed her, scooping her up into my recently tanned arms. The water sprayed up and foamed around us and we were both wearing those no-holding-back huge teethy grins; ones that said we were happy as hell. Who were you trying to convince more: her or you?
She put the photo down, but didn’t turn around. “Black,” she said.
We sat down on opposite sides of the couch, coffee in hand, and I waited for her to say something. For a long time, she just sat there, drinking and staring in my general direction, not exactly looking at me.
“I’m sorry that I waited until a time like this to come back,” she said finally.
She had pulled her hair up into a clip when I was in the kitchen trying to figure out how to use all the buttons on the coffee pot/espresso maker, and I was able to get a full look at her face like this. Still the same high cheekbones set behind those round baby cheeks, and the almond shaped eyes that remarkably changed hue with her mood.
I hadn’t expected her to change though, had I?
“Why? Why are you sorry?” I asked her. Suddenly, and not without a twinge of unease, I wondered if I had misjudged her intentions for coming to see me. And what of my own intentions? To close a door so a new one could open? Perhaps my own grief and awkwardness had blinded my better judgment. No, not perhaps: probably.
Bitten with cynicism from a long and taxing day, I added, “I didn’t bring you here so we could reminisce about our…colorful history.”
She set her coffee on the glass table and looked down at her hands, which were fidgeting in her lap. She had always done that when she was nervous or cornered, and I didn’t know what to make of it then. Was she going to bring up the past or was she simply getting the long-overdue apology out of the way before moving on to me and what I was going through? Was she even here because of me?
It wasn’t fair or right of me to be so selfish, but then it wasn’t fair or right for me to have lost my wife in such a cruel way. Nothing was fair. I had been rash in my decision to bring her here, to think she would be able to somehow lessen my pain and help me move on through some imagined talk we might have. I knew then I didn’t want to talk about the past and I realized then that we were at cross intentions, for that was hers entirely.
“Please forgive me, that wasn’t where I was aiming. I said I was sorry because I am,” she answered, finally and her words were hasty, as if she thought that if she didn’t get them out in one stream, they would fade on the tongue.
“I am sorry that because of what I did, you’re in such a deep despair.”
“What would cause you to say such a thing?” I stood up; I was really fuming now. I suddenly found some of the energy I had been searching for since I woke up to face the day. The conversation had taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction and it had only just begun. For her to come back into my life on the day I buried my wife, only to try and downplay my marriage into a rebound affair?
Who did she think she was?
But isn’t she right?
“Oz, that isn’t-“
I thrust my hands out to stop her when she tried to come toward me. The room was spinning, or perhaps it was my head. I realized I hadn’t eaten a single thing all day, but it was too late to do anything about it now. I felt my blood pressure rise, quickly and violently. An overwhelming need to keep Janie, Naomi, and myself on one side of the room and her on the other consumed me.
“The love I had and still have for Janie was wonderful and it was real. And out of that love came the most amazing little girl, and I wouldn’t take any of it back for the world. I can’t say the same about you,” I spat at her. There, let her digest that.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, my words had the desired reaction. I could see I had hurt her. Truly, this only made me feel worse because it was not in my nature to hurt others. The fact that I was even considering her feelings on this day then made me angry at myself. I wanted this day over.
“I deserved that,” she said. “But I didn’t come here to make light of your marriage to Janie. I know that you loved her, and I only wanted to say that I was sorry that things happened the way that they did.
“Oz, I felt like my leaving you caused you nothing but pain. I’m not talking about your marriage; I’m talking about your loss of it. I feel responsible for it. No, I think I am responsible for it.”
She never was very good at choosing her words carefully. This only stirred up my anger again.
It was not gradual, what happened next. It was as if I had been drop kicked and then slapped crudely across the face and slammed into a brick wall. Suddenly the day that had seemed surreal to me became painfully lucid.
Oh my God, I’m finally losing it.
It was only partly her fault; mainly it was just that she happened to be standing there when I finally lost my grip. I looked up at the grandfather clock that belonged to Janie’s ancestors, the oak armoire in the corner that was her great-grandmother’s. The chandelier in the dining room passed down from one of her relatives circa the Civil War era. Janie, Janie, Janie, everything around me lived and breathed her! It was all too much, too fast, and I felt an invisible hand encircle my chest and squeeze.
I was suddenly struggling to breathe and my chest only got tighter as I inhaled.
Suddenly, the day that had been so complicated was so simple. She was a stranger to me now and I just wanted her gone.
Spinning, wavering, the room danced circles around me until I gripped the mantle for balance. My hands slipped and the right hand came in contact with the edge of the marble, drawing blood.