Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 40)

After Tim pulled away, Erik, Lily, and Harry joined Hannah.  She was sad that Irma wasn’t able to make it, but she understood that her sister had her hands full with caring for Ross.  Lily and Erik embraced Hannah before saying they needed to return home. As Hannah watched her oldest brother go, Harry lingered by her side, his presence comforting and steady.  

Fresh tears filled her eyes as her brother pulled her to him.  “Oh, Harry.” She sobbed into his shirt while he rubbed circles into her upper back, and when Hannah finally withdrew, she looked up into his wise eyes.

“I won’t lie to you and say the pain ever goes away,” he said softly, “but in time, you’ll find peace.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of Kathy.”

“And here I thought no one understood, that I was so alone,” Hannah said, half-laughing, half-crying.  “How could I have been so selfish to have forgotten? You’ve always been there for me, and I-”

“Shh,” Harry murmured.  “Grieve in your own way, in your own time, Hannah.  There are no rules for this sort of thing. No one can tell you how to feel, what to say or do.  And you forget that I wasn’t always there…”

Hannah shook her head.  “That was a lifetime ago, Harry.  We were all so young.”

“Sometimes, sis, when I’m low and feeling especially sorry for myself, I still go there.  Besides you, Kathy was my rock. Without her, the temptation to have a drink is stronger, but when I think of how it would break her heart, I know she’s alive inside me, and I hold back.  Edward will still be your strength and comfort when you don’t even know it.”

Hannah nodded.  “Thank you, Harry.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Harry looked like he was about to speak, but he only hugged her and smiled, turning as he went to join his own family.  Hannah gazed at the fresh grave one last time.

“Goodbye, Eddy,” she whispered.  “We’ll see each other again in Heaven, my love.”

She somehow found the resolve to walk away.  She knew Edward wasn’t really in that grave, so as she ambled across the freshly mown grass to join her family, she looked up at the heavens.  The sun brushed her cheeks and lips like a feather-light kiss.

Hannah returned often to Edward’s grave.  She brought fresh daisies every Sunday after church.  Sometimes her family joined her, but she was usually alone.  She took to keeping a folding chair in her trunk, and whether rain or sun, she’d sit with Edward for a little while and speak to him.  She sometimes read from her book of Psalms, but other times, she’d just sit quietly, listening. Closing her eyes, she didn’t have to think hard to imagine him in the rustling of the leaves, in the birdsong, or in the breeze that embraced her.  These days became Hannah’s path to healing.

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 48)

“I just don’t get it,” Hannah said, eyeing the many stacks of newspapers in Harry’s basement.  “You have way more stuff than I do, and Abbi is acting like I have a hoarding problem. She’d have a field day over here!”

Harry shrugged.  “I’ve thought about cleaning them out, but none of my kids will bother with them.  I’m too old to go at it myself, and I figured, what’s the harm?”

“It’s a fire hazard, Harry.  You really ought to consider getting rid of some of these.  I know I’m not one to talk about keeping things, but it makes me uncomfortable seeing all these papers down here and you living alone.”

“But some of them have stories in them I like, important historical events, old ads that are neat to look at.”

Hannah smiled ruefully.  “You sound like me making up excuses.  When Abbi asked why I had a couple hundred plastic bags, I told her that you never know when you might need a bag to carry something in.”  Chuckling, Hannah said, “She doesn’t know this, but after she left on Sunday, I went back out to the trash and brought half of the stuff back in.  Can you believe she threw out old Christmas cards? She told me she holds onto hers for a year, uses them to write out that year’s cards, and then throws them away.  Can you imagine?”

“Maybe she saw the way you are and decided to do just the opposite?”

Hannah shook her head as they ascended the stairs.

“That seems to be a pattern in my family.  I keep wondering where I went wrong with Glen…”

“Don’t beat yourself up, sis.  I could ask myself the same thing about my daughter.  Gloria never married and seemed so against it. Her mother and she argued all the time about it.  It’s not just sons that upset us, not that I had expectations that Gloria needed a man in her life.  Her mother thought differently, though. I know a thing or two about upsetting my parents.”

“Does that bother you, even after all this time?” Hannah asked as they took seats on the sofa.

“It’s always with me,” Harry said softly, meeting his sister’s eyes.  “When Gloria showed herself as independent and head-strong, part of me admired her for standing up for herself, but I was reminded of… Kat.  There were a couple of occasions when Gloria was in her twenties and she was dating a different guy every week when I was this close to grabbing a drink.  Kathy stopped me every time. Now, I’m about to be a great-grandfather, and that’s the easiest role I think I’ve ever played.”

“So, is Heidi expecting, then?”

“Yes, my oldest granddaughter is pregnant.  I teased her that she was making me feel old.”

“You’re pushing eighty.  You are old.” Hannah smirked at him.

“You’re right behind me, sis.  To be honest, I’m happy to see eighty.”

Hannah thought briefly about Erik and sobered.  “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“All this talk about families, we’ve spoken about our roles as parents, but as my brother, I want you to answer me honestly.  Was I an annoying younger sister?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, were you ever! But seriously, Hannah, you were there for me at times when most would’ve left.  Why?”

“I hear Abbi talking about her kids and how they fight, and I think about my own kids and how they just don’t see eye-to-eye as adults.  I feel like a hypocrite at times, Harry, when I remember how I failed you as a sister. I don’t care that it was years ago. You tell me otherwise, but I sometimes wonder if I’ve failed in other ways as well.”

Harry frowned.  “Is this mostly about Glen?”

“Yes…”

“He’ll come around.  I did.”

“Eddy’s father never did.  I told you his story.”

“But Glen’s circumstances are different.  I think he really is trying to do right for his family.  When you’re a son, Hannah, there are expectations to be ‘a man.’  I guess that means proving yourself, not showing weaknesses… stupid stuff at the end of the day.  I’m not one who’s all that wise, Hannah. I just know that if someone’s meant to be in your life, they will be at the end of the day.  You’re very strong, but somehow thought you were failing others. I’d say if anyone I know has earned the right to speak her mind, it’s you.  I didn’t want to hear the truth all those years ago, but you weren’t afraid to get in my face when I needed a good emotional slap. If your son has any sense, then he’ll be there.  I’m certain he loves you.”

“I hope you’re right.  Thanks, Harry.” Hannah squeezed his hand.  

“That’s what I’m here for.  I have all the time in the world, Hannah.”

“Like for cleaning out those newspapers?”

“We’re back to that again, are we?”

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

The sun is rising when Mike finally pulls into his driveway, but as he gets out of his car, that doesn’t matter.  The clouds obscure most of the light.  Snow pelts his face as he pulls the collar of his coat higher, muttering how stupid he was to not bring a hat and gloves to work.  He fidgets with his key at the side door, the chill of the wind numbing his arthritic fingers.  When the lock clicks, he heaves his shoulder into the door, pushing it open with great effort.

He shrugs out of his coat and boots and leaves them on the mat by the door.  He goes for the fridge and pulls out a beer, opens it, and begins drinking it before he reaches his worn armchair in front of the TV.  Flopping into the familiar comfort, he flips on the TV to watch the latest weather update.

“Damn weather people,” he grumbles.  “Stupid blizzard.  Half the time you guys ain’t right, and when you are, it’s usually even worse than you told us it’d be.”

Several inches of snow have already piled up.  The drive home from work took nearly two hours.  Mike looks out the window, only to see snow sticking to the screen.

He changes the channel to some old western and keeps the volume low.  He finishes his beer and belches, then lights up a cigarette and considers his options.  The weather man said the snow wasn’t expected to stop until that evening.  Even then, the roads would likely be a mess until tomorrow.

Mike already told his boss he wouldn’t be in for the next two days, explaining the situation.  Marty gave his condolences, told him not to worry, and that was the end of the conversation.

He finishes the cigarette and puts it out in the tray on the foldable table next to the armchair.  As Mike gazes around the living room at the shabby, stained carpet littered with takeaway wrappers, the dust-laden furniture, and the grimy windows, he knows Barb would be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, with him.

“I’m gonna go to Cal, honey,” he murmurs, pushing himself to standing.  

He stops halfway across the room, glancing from the treadmill to the entrance to the kitchen.  He turns and heads for the bathroom instead.  After relieving several ounces of coffee, Mike stares at the scale and weighs himself.  Five more pounds than last time.  He shoves the thing aside and returns to the kitchen for another beer and a new bag of chips.  Breakfast of champs.

It’s back to the armchair.  Mike drinks, smokes, and eats away his sorrows until he falls asleep.  He dreams of Barb, but she isn’t smiling at him.  

When he wakes, the snow hasn’t let up.  Mike grumbles as he removes his glasses to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, surprised to find tears gathered there.  With a growl, he stands and tosses the glasses to the chair.

He goes to the bedroom.  The bed sits unused and dusty, nothing different from the day Barb died.  Her clothes still hang in the closet.  Her jewelry box and bottles of perfume rest undisturbed on the dresser.  This room is a memorial, a monument to his dear wife.

Mike drops to his knees next to the bed, as if he’s about to pray.  He cries out in pain, but it’s his knees that hurt–or so he tries to tell himself.  He gropes under the bed and pulls out a box.  He opens it.

The first thing he removes is his wedding album.  He touches the faded photo of them walking down the aisle after their vows, in sickness and in health…till death us do part.  Mike shakes his shaggy head and doesn’t try to stop the tears now.  His vision blurs as he sets the album down and takes out the next one.  Calvin as a newborn, crawling, walking, his first haircut, preschool, kindergarten, and all those birthdays, milestones, and school pictures that mark a child’s life growing up.  

It’s too much.  Mike closes the album with a snap and returns both to the box.  The box is hidden away again, and he stands.  He has disturbed the sanctuary of this room, and he hates himself for it.

He returns to the armchair, his safe haven, and falls asleep.

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

If turning forty was supposed to make Russ feel age’s sudden grip on him, he is glad he still has his usual energy.  His schedule doesn’t allow for him to stop of the rest area by mile marker 139 in Ohio this week.  Just because the weather is bad, shipments still have to be made.  A day or two shifts when he’s running behind schedule, but every time he’s home, he isn’t really home.  That apartment has only ever been a place to lay down his head.

He pulls off at a truck station in the middle of Indiana.  It’s late, but not so late that other truckers aren’t hogging every chair and couch in the lounge.  He showers and grabs some food, then returns to find an open spot.

“This taken?” he asks the guy sitting next to it.

The grizzle-haired, scruffy man shrugs and shakes his head.

“Thanks.”  Russ sits and watches some national news program, finding himself zoning out.

“The stuff’s depressin’,” the guy next to him remarks.  “Same ol’ shit ev’ry day.”

Russ chuckles.  “Someone could change the station.  I’d much rather watch ESPN.”

“Good huntin’ show’d be nice.”  The guy sits up in his seat.  His accent is Appalachian.  “You a New Yorker?”

Russ laughs.  “What gave me away?”

“Way yeh talk.  You got somethin’ nice waitin’ for yeh back home?”

“Funny you’d call it home.  My truck’s more my home than anything.  How about you?”

“Nah, and yeah, know what yeh mean ‘bout the truck.  Been drivin’ for damn near forty years, friend.”

“Damn, man.  That’s a long time.”

“Keeps me outta trouble.”  The guy winks, and Russ chuckles.

“Yeah?”

“Yep.  No drinkin’ on the job.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely not allowed, my friend.”  Russ tries for levity, but seeing the state of the poor sucker next to him unsettles dinner in his stomach.

The older man chuckles, which turns into a series of coughs.  He stands with the aid of the chair and fingers something in his coat pocket.  “These here things’ll be the death of me, son.  Don’ be a fool like me, boy.  Don’ smoke, drink, or fall ‘n love.”

As the guy walks away, still hacking, Russ says in a low voice, “I’ll try to remember that.”

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

Sarah studies Zelda’s face, the slight frown lines around her mouth and the line between her eyes that’s deeper than it should be for someone her age.  Teardrops cling to her eyelashes like dew on grass on a summer morning.  Zelda’s olive skin clashes with her reddened cheeks on a thin face cloaked by untamed curly black hair.  “You’re beautiful,” she says.  “And nothing’s the matter with you.  You’re fucking beautiful, you understand me?”

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

The concrete sidewalk is still wet.  He moves his gaze to the flat, brownish grass, then to the flowerbeds.  The mulch needs to be replenished.  The plants are mostly dormant, but then he sees it: a crocus, the tiniest flower, is smiling back.  “Here, look.”  He gently touches Shelley’s arm, then points.

“What?”  She follows his gesture.  “Oh.”  Her voice lights up like someone has turned on a light after a long time, like a child has just gotten a puppy on Christmas morning.

“Yes, oh.”  Mike chuckles.  “Beautiful, ain’t it?”  He moves his eyes away from the flower to Shelley’s face.  “Strong, resilient, keeps on keeping on.”

Shelley blinks, stares at him for several seconds.  She reaches for his age-spotted hand and takes it, squeezes it.  “Thank you.”

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

Calvin’s words strike Mike straight through.  His mouth hangs open for several seconds, the intake and exhale of breath slow.  He’s lost, disoriented, and can’t seem to find the ground beneath his feet.  There it is–the bench solid under his backside.  The phone–real and clutched in his hand.  He closes his mouth and swallows, trying to get his bearings.  His gaze is vacant, the interior of the rest area blurring in the distance.

“You’ve got me, Cal.”  Mike’s voice is a whisper, a scratchy plea of unused words that should have been spoken a long time ago.

“Thanks, Dad.”  The call ends, and Mike is left staring at his phone.  He stuffs it in his pocket and lifts his gaze toward the exit.