Chapter 1 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 1

Damp. Dank. Dusty. Dirty.

It’s become a kind of game. I’m good at games. How many words that begin with the letter D can I come up with to describe this place?

Disgusting.

There’s another point for me. 1-0, Hank, old boy.

Of course, you never talk much. I’m lucky to get the occasional grunt from you, Hank.

I roll onto my side, the lumpy mattress beneath me protesting as it pushes back in all the wrong places. Hank’s sleeping, if you can call whimpering and moaning while he pisses himself sleeping. Nightmares, of course. Not that Hank ever has much to say about that.

But back to my game. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Dank. Yep, that smell of musty, rusty mold growing on mold has attached itself to my nose like a cold that doesn’t leave. It’s my constant companion, whether I want it or not. I suppose it’s like the games I’m so good at. So good, in fact, that when I lost one, boy, did I ever lose.

I don’t know what nightmares plague Hank. Maybe it’s what landed him here that’s got him all caught up in nightly visions of Hell. Rumors say he killed a man in cold blood, but a man who wets himself like that ain’t a cold-blooded killer in my book. Whatever his problems, I’ve got enough of my own.

I damn near laughed when the guard who swung by last week said Prohibition ended. Fourteen years of outlawing alcohol, and now part of the reason I’m here’s legal again? How’s that for justice?

Alcohol’s my problem. Yeah, I admit that, but that’s not my nightmare. Green accusing eyes, cruel laughter falling from a red-lipsticked mouth that kissed me silly too many times to count, and the red hair to match…like flames that burn my insides every time I close my eyes. I don’t have to be sleeping to see her. Red everywhere, from the smashed in windshield, to her smashed in face, decorated with shards of glass as her stunned expression stares back at me with those eyes. Always those damn eyes. Even empty, they accuse.

* * *

Eight years earlier…

It’s late, but the dusk is still dimly lighting the western sky. Overhead, the stars poke out from the black. Most wouldn’t believe I have the calm inside me to stop and notice. When the others aren’t looking, I sneak away into the back yard, that dewy grass tickling my neck as I lie in it and watch the stars.

Footsteps disturb my concentration. I bolt up, my eyes adjusting until a man’s silhouette rests against the freshly painted white siding of our house.

“What’re you doing, Harry?”

“What’s it matter? Is Ma looking for me? Tell her I already put the delivery away.”

“Ma said Mr. Morris was here hours ago and that you didn’t touch the stuff till after dinner.”

I try not to roll my eyes. “Then what’s the problem, Erik?”

My brother plants himself in the grass beside me and sighs. Even in the near darkness, he’s the pretty boy every girl wants. He got all of Pa’s charm and looks: the blond hair, the blue eyes, the smooth-talking way with the girls.

“It’s tomorrow,” Erik says. “Graduation.”

“Yeah? And? You haven’t shut up about it for weeks, even months. What, you scared you won’t be the center of everyone’s attention anymore? No more calls from girls? Hell–”

“Harry, if Ma heard you–”

“Well, Ma’s not here, is she? Virginia Williams called again, didn’t she? I heard you,” I say lightly, jabbing him in the side. “‘Oh, Ginny, honey…’” I raise my voice an octave, but Erik cuffs me roughly. “Jeez, what’s that for?”

“Can you be serious for a second, Harry?”

I raise my hands and eyebrows at the same time. “All right, I surrender. You wanna wrestle it out for old times’ sake? This grass has our names written all over it.”

Erik glares. “This was a mistake. Goodnight, Harry.”

As he retreats, he kitchen light goes off once he clicks the back door shut.

“What’s got his undies in a twist?” I mutter to the stars.

Erik and I were always scrapping in this yard as boys, always inseparable. In a few months, I’m gonna start tenth grade, and he’s off to college. Not only does he have the looks and the ways with girls all right, but he’s got smarts and talent on the field. Star pitcher of Benny Frankie High in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sighing, I stand and brush the grass from my pants. I head inside and find my annoying little sister standing on the landing of the stairs. It’s Hannah, the older little sister. Irma’s the other one, who’s still so young that she really is little.

“Hey, Hannah-panna,” I say, smirking.

“Oh, stop it, Harry. You think you’re so funny.”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Ma was looking for you.”

“Wow, I’m a popular guy. I almost feel like Erik, I’m so popular. Did a pretty doll give me a call?”

Hannah places her hands on her hips in a manner that’s suited her well for years and sticks her tongue out. I laugh as she turns and stomps up the stairs.

“You know, for a young lady, you’re pretty immature,” I call up after her.

I quietly chuckle to myself. Hannah’s always easy to get a rise out of. Sobering, I climb the stairs, and when the third step from the top creaks, I tip my imaginary hat at it.

“Goodnight, old friend.”

I turn for the second door on the right, ready to see my esteemed brother. The door to my parents’ room opens and Ma steps out.

“There you are.”

I stare back at my twin–well, except that Ma is a good thirty-five years older than me and female, but the mousy-brown hair, the square jawline, and the plain face, yeah…thanks, Ma. I got Pa’s baby blues, at least, but I ain’t complaining, I swear.

I pretend to yawn. It’s a convincing act, my mouth all wide and my eyes screwed shut, but Ma doesn’t buy into my cheap acts.

“Tomorrow is an early day. I trust you’re on your way to bed.”

I smile. “Righto. Erik’s big day. ‘Night, Ma.”

I kiss her gently on the top of the head. I’m taller than her now, so she tilts her head up.

“What was that for?” she asks.

The question’s so simple, but it’s not. Deep down, just like the times I seek out the stars by myself, some part of me reaches for my mother. I laugh instead.

“Can’t a son give his old ma a kiss? Maybe I’ll lay it on sloppy next time, like Flossie.”

Ma isn’t buying this, either. She doesn’t seem interested in anything I’m selling these days, but maybe what she’s buying into is more than just cheap tricks and one-liners.

“Harry, are you all right?” Her glistening eyes search me.

This look unnerves me. All the times Ma’s glared at me don’t probe me the way those hazel eyes see me now, like stripping me bare to my soul.

I shrug and smile. That’s what she expects. What they all expect. Why give her anything else? “I’m fine.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Poetry Tuesday – Let Me Hold You Close

I was inspired to

Reach inside myself

When I first felt

This rush of affection.

I never imagined anyone

Could love me the way

You have loved me.

That miracle makes life

Worth living,

Carries me through

The rough days,

And makes my heart

Smile.

It’s more than gratitude

I feel for you,

For sometimes I know

I need to bless

You

For keeping me

Truly alive.

When I think

Of all the times

You have been there

For me,

To listen to my problems,

Tell me it will be

All right,

Or just

Hold me,

I understand

Your constant presence

Beside me.

I know we are one.

Even when I want to be

Alone,

All you want is to hug me.

I understand why now.

Since words cannot express

What we have,

Let me hold you close.

-written in 1999

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST A POEM EVERY TUESDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Poetry Tuesday – Desire

Sweet desire, take me in

Let the fiery heat begin

Breathe, darling; kiss my pouting lips

Move your hand over my wavy hips

Oh, such ecstasy, do not go

Join me in our private little show

Let me feel every part of you

I won’t stop until it’s through

Close the curtains; there’s nothing to hide

Allow me to explore you on the inside

Between my legs I am on fire

I can’t hold back this raging desire

Lie there, you on bottom and me above

Let us make beautiful love

I feel the vibrations, oh, so sweet

You give me a real treat

But when morning comes, I fear to say

Along comes an end to this magical day

Oh, burning desire, let me out

I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what love is about.

-written in 1999

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST A POEM EVERY TUESDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order here.
 

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“I would like it very much if you were all here with me,” Hannah said, wheezing.  She coughed several times.

“Mom!” Abbi exclaimed, rushing to her side.

The coughing spell subsided, and Hannah shook her head, holding up a placating hand.  “No, no, it’s nothing.  Please don’t make a fuss.  There’s nothing to be done.  Just, please… be here with me.  And call my siblings, please.  They need to know.  Harry would be devastated if he couldn’t come in time…”

“I’ll make the calls,” Abbi said, trying to occupy herself.

Brenda exchanged a look with Abbi and nodded, drawing up a chair next to Glen.  Abbi left the room and made the calls she dreaded.  Irma said she’d be on the first plane out, but Abbi thought, with a sinking heart, that she would be too late.  Within the hour, Harry was at the door.

Abbi supposed she could have let Alan or Tom answer the door, but she was a bundle of nerves as she flitted about the house.  When she opened the front door and saw the pain etched in every line of her uncle’s face, she couldn’t compose herself to speak.  Harry entered and hugged his niece.

“Chin up, Abbi, child,” he said in his usual gentle manner he’d used with her since she had been small.

Abbi half-laughed, half-hiccupped.  “I’m not a child anymore, Uncle Harry, but thanks.”

“Ah, you’re a child to me, old fart that I am.  It’s okay to fall apart, to be like a child, especially right now.  Where is she?”

“This way.”  Abbi couldn’t help but smile.  Her uncle always knew how to make her laugh.

Harry fell silent as he followed his niece to his sister’s side.  He took Hannah’s hand in a similar manner as she’d held his all those years ago in the hospital after he had been in the accident.

“What’s this all about, then?” he asked.  “I always imagined the roles reserved here, sis.  What are you doing in this bed, hmmm?”

Hannah’s chuckle came as a rasp, then a cough, but her eyes shone with mirth.

Recovering, she said, “You never let up, do you, silly brother?  I guess the good Lord has use of you yet here.”

“Can’t imagine for what.”

“There you go again, selling yourself short.”

“You think you know what’s best for me, eh?  Leaving me ain’t it, Hannah-panna.”

“You never stop, do you?”

They exchanged their friendly banter for a little while longer before Hannah grew serious.  “But don’t ever stop, Harry.  Don’t ever stop making people laugh and smile.  It’s what you do, who you are.  You and that big heart of yours.”

Eyes shining with tears, Harry said, “There’s one person whose smile I haven’t seen in far too long.  You tell Kathy when you see her – you tell her I’m coming for her soon.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Then it’s settled.  Maybe you can leave after all.  Don’t let an old bugger like me keep you.”

Harry hugged Hannah one last time and said his farewells to her children.  After he left, Hannah’s eyes implored her youngest daughter, then her other children, to sit with her.  Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, so she didn’t waste her words.  Each breath, each utterance, and each heartbeat were precious, now more than ever for Hannah.

Hannah’s eyes slipped shut, and her hands fell loose at her sides.  To her children, she appeared to be sleeping with difficulty, as every breath was labored, rattling through her chest and out again.

 

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order here.My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

A Laughing Matter of Pain Release on 9/29! #newrelease #bookbuzz #bookpromo #historicalfiction #familylife

harryquote2

Reserve your copy of A Laughing Matter of Pain on #Amazon today: https://buff.ly/2QzItyl
#NewRelease 9/29!

Laughter can hide a lot of pain that’s drowned by the bottle and good times.
Even in the darkest depths of a prison cell, there is hope.

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

R

Rain hit Haley’s bedroom window, tracking down the glass like the tears on her face.  Her geometry homework sat unfinished in front of her as she lifted blurry eyes from the numbers and turned toward the wall separating her room from the bedroom next door.  She heard Pastor Rife’s muffled voice reciting the familiar words of Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She found no comfort in those words.

When the pastor’s voice stopped reciting the Psalm, he murmured a prayer.  Hannah’s voice, if she even spoke, was too weak to be heard through the wall.  Footsteps retreated down the hallway a moment later, and Haley listened for any sound, her breath caught in her throat.

Wiping away tears, she sniffled and stood, finding her resolve.  She went to the bedroom door and pushed it slightly open.  Down the hallway, the door to her parents’ bedroom was slightly ajar, and her dad’s voice travelled the short distance.  She picked up snippets of the phone conversation, and curious, she walked quietly to the bedroom and listened.

“I doubt she’ll live another twenty-four hours,” Alan said.

Dad thinks Grandma will be gone in a day?  Haley thought, refusing to believe it.

“She was still walking around last night, that’s right,” her father continued.  “To take such a turn for the worst overnight was unexpected.”

Haley refused to listen to another word.  She withdrew from the doorway and retreated toward her room.  When she reached the door, she made to push it open, but she hovered with indecision as her eyes fell upon the door to what was normally her brother’s room.  Grandma Hannah had spent the night in Randy’s bedroom, the bed more comfortable than the pull-out one she usually occupied whenever she spent the night.

Biting her lower lip, Haley entered the darkened room.  The shades were drawn shut on all three windows as the sound of rain continued to hit the glass.  Hannah was lying on the bed, propped up by several pillows, and Haley couldn’t discern her grandma’s face until she was nearly upon her.  She stopped at the bedside and tried to smile, but Haley’s heart wasn’t in it.  More than anything, fear filled her.  This figure lying here – this couldn’t be her beloved grandma!

Haley felt tears prickle again, and with a watery smile, she whispered, “Hi, Grandma.”

No rosy cheeks, no warm smile, no life in her eyes – Hannah stared back at Haley, so weakened and withered, and managed a faint, “Haley.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order here.My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Remembering Grandpa by Creating Him

We stood in the basement of my grandma’s old house, the place I visited every Sunday afternoon as a child. I was now an adult. While I knew she had passed away years ago, as had the man with me, the moment felt so real.

The security of his arms around me, the steady rise and fall of his chest, his breath warm in my ear as he whispered, “I know you never knew me, but I wanted to tell you I love you.”

He wasn’t much taller than me, if at all. His voice was kind, gentle…grandfatherly.

I woke in awe, a tear in my eye. I never knew my grandfather, yet he had spoken to me through a dream.

babygrandpa
My grandfather in 1903

I have seen many pictures of my grandfather. He passed away four years before I was born. Being nearly 11 years older than my grandmother, he would have been well into his seventies by the time I came along. My grandparents were older than most in that generation, she at 28 and he at 39 when they married in 1942. My uncle was born in ‘46 and my mom in ‘49, so my grandfather was 46 when my mom came into this world. With my grandparents being older, especially my grandfather, I don’t suppose chances were favorable that even if he had lived longer, I would have remembered him much or known him long… But I digress. It’s a sad reality, but true, and I cannot undo the past.

So, that dream held and holds significance for me, seeing as my grandfather was just a man I knew from pictures and from my grandma and mom’s memories of him. He was among the tallest in his extended family. All of the Grundmans were short, so at 5 feet 9 inches, he was a veritable giant! His mother passed away from breast cancer shortly before my grandparents married, and his father was never in his life. His parents divorced when he was a baby because his father was an alcoholic. His mother remarried a man named Samuel Winhold when my grandfather was seven. Samuel must have passed away some 20 years later, as he no longer showed up in pictures.

grandpawithparents
My grandfather, his step-father, and his mother (Amelia) in 1923

My grandfather was Howard Grundman. That’s a good, strong German name, isn’t it? In fact, my mother’s side of the family is completely German, although they have been living in the United States (on both sides) since the 1880s. What’s funny is that when growing up, I often referred to my grandfather as “Howard” when talking about him with my mom or grandma. We visited my grandma every Sunday afternoon for many years, and one of the things we often did was get out all the old pictures and look at them at her dining room table. I had an interest in my heritage from an early age, asking my parents and grandmas to tell me the names of their direct ancestors, so I could write them down. I had a family tree going back to my great-great-grandparents when I was eight, and since then, I have done extensive genealogy research, but that is another topic.

Getting back to my grandfather, or Howard, I feel the need to make the distinction of personalizing him. He will be Grandpa going forward, as it has been in my head and in my writing that I have remembered him in a roundabout way.

grandparentswedding
My grandparents on March 21, 1942

I was fortunate to know my grandma, Emma Grundman, until I was 15, when she passed away. I was close to her, as we saw her weekly. When she died, a void opened in my heart that I spent years (and still do) trying to fill. How can you replace a loved one? You can’t, of course, but you can help them live on by remembering them, by sharing stories, writing down memories, looking at pictures. I am a writer, and writing a story based on my late grandma’s life was inside me. I didn’t know it until 11 year later, when at age 26, I woke with a fictional character’s name on my lips: Hannah Rechthart. Hannah would become my grandma in the story, and her husband would be Edward (Howard).

I wrote a couple of chapters and then a couple more over the next few years, but nothing came of that story until March 2015. I was tired of waiting: waiting for inspiration to strike, waiting to achieve my dream of writing the story and maybe even publishing it. So, I sat down with the intention of writing for at least fifteen minutes a day. That’s it, I told myself, 15 minutes. And do it every day.

I stuck to that, and in the process, the fictional name of Edward Grunner became a character who seemed to breathe and walk off the page. He shared a lot in common with my grandpa: being raised mostly by his mother, being an only child, working in accounting, marrying later in life, being drafted during World War II but only serving for three months, and in love with his dear wife. Edward was an admirable man in many ways. He was kind, patient, and supportive. He was a hard worker and went to church with his family every Sunday. But doubts of being a good father figure plagued him because of his own lack of a good fatherly role model. He questioned his ability to be the type of dad his children needed, especially where his son was concerned.

grundmanfamily
The Grundman family in the early 1950s

For the first time, the ache of not actually knowing Grandpa hit me. I looked at the old pictures of him with my grandma and their kids as if for the first time. I wondered what he sounded like. What was his laugh like? There’s a picture of my grandparents sitting on the couch laughing, and the sound almost escapes. It’s like a phantom room right next door, but I just can’t enter.

What was his favorite food? Did he enjoy Grandma’s pork chops as much as the rest of the family? Did he play that old Monopoly set from the 1930s that Grandma had, the one where I only wanted to play the banker because I didn’t want to lose? Did he sit in the pew and listen to his wife play the organ in church like Edward did in my story? What did he think of his in-laws? Were his grandparents really as stern as they looked in their pictures?

grandparentshappy
My grandparents laughing in 1956

So many questions and only my imagination to answer them!

I mourned Grandpa as if he had just died in 2015 instead of 40 years earlier. For me, by making him alive in my story, I felt that loss penetrate me in a way I never had before. I remember setting an extra place at the table at times when I was a child and we’d be at my grandma’s. It was for my grandpa. Now I have set a place in my heart for him.

I remember him in this way. It’s all I’ve really got.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post excerpts of my stories on Saturdays, poetry on Tuesdays, and the occasional blog on Fridays. Also keep up-to-date with my writing.

The book I refer to in this post, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

My other book, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

Also, don’t forget my next book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for pre-order here.