Wayne Gerard Trotman – Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest

Kaya_Abaniah_6x9Title: Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest

Author: Wayne Gerard Trotman

ISBN or ASIN: ISBN 9780956787217 (Paperback) ISBN 9780956787231 (Hardback)

ISBN: 9781311992062 (eBook) ASIN: B00T1DFTL2 (Kindle)

Page count: 416

Genre: Young adult or teen Sci-Fi & fantasy

Price (Print and Ebook): $22.99 (Paperback) $26.99 (Hardback) $5.99 (eBook/Kindle)

 

Author Bio:

Wayne Gerard Trotman is a British writer, filmmaker, artist, photographer, blogger, composer and producer of electronic music from the two-island Caribbean Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He lives with his wife and two sons in Surrey, Greater London, near Wimbledon.

 

Wayne01Tell us about your book:

Kaya Abaniah (Kah-yuh Abba-na-yuh) is a boy’s name. Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest is a unique coming of age, science fiction, adventure story. It is presented with much of the dialogue in authentic Trinidadian Creole, and combines legends and characters from Trinidad and Tobago folklore with the themes of wildlife conservation, redemption, and forgiveness.

Kaya Abaniah believes he’s an ordinary fourteen-year-old college student. He lives with his mother on the Caribbean island of Trinidad; he’s passionate about wildlife conservation and has a crush on the prettiest girl in his class. However, one fateful day, Kaya’s life is changed forever when he encounters Papa Bois, a folklore character similar to the Greek god, Pan.

Kaya learns he has the talent. He’s a telepath, and he’s not alone. He discovers that men in black are constantly watching him, Soucouyant, the shape-shifting vampire wants his blood, and his packed lunch is never safe.

Will Kaya succeed in protecting his relatives and friends from the supernatural evils that lurk on the tropic isle? Can he reveal the shape-shifter’s secret identity? And, why on Earth is the most gorgeous girl, he’s ever known, so interested in him?

Follow Kaya’s struggles with love, rivalry, and academic life, as he confronts the terrifying creatures of Trinidad and Tobago’s folklore, and unlocks the shocking mystery of Papa Bois, the father of the forest.

 

Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:

Were you ever young and in love? Do you like mysteries, action, and adventure? Have you ever longed to visit a tropical paradise? Do you love nature? Do you enjoy learning about different cultures? Have you ever wondered if life exists elsewhere in the universe? Do you have an open mind? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is probably for you.

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Smashwords

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?
Psychic War Journal

Facebook

Twitter

 

Excerpt from book:

1

AGUE

On a hot, humid, moonless night, in the small Trinidadian town of Coconut Grove, Kaya Abaniah lay awake on his bed, covered in a thick woollen blanket, drenched in sweat and shivering uncontrollably. Experiencing fresh waves of feverish chills, Kaya slowly reached for the glass of water on his bedside table. And, between shaky sips, his teeth chattered loudly, and a soft groan escaped his chapped lips. He gulped the tepid water past sore swollen tonsils and shakily placed the glass back on its bedside perch.

With a sigh, Kaya adjusted his pillow. Thinking of nothing in particular, he stared at the four walls, weakly illuminated by the ambient glow of his old computer’s LED standby button. In the gloom, his Bob Marley poster, the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago calendar, and the colourful acrylic paintings of local scenery he had meticulously produced were all reduced to morose shades of grey.

Trying to make himself comfortable, Kaya turned to his left and observed his mother, Josephine. She slouched, fast asleep, in the old wooden rocking chair that once belonged to Kaya’s grandmother. For the third night in a row, Josephine had watched over her ill son until fatigue finally got the better of her. In Kaya’s eyes, the headstrong thirty-six-year-old single-mother did not look a day older than twenty-six, despite the exhaustion she endured due to her busy daily routine.

Always fiercely independent, she had been the subject of much gossip in the village of Tortuga, where Kaya was born. Josephine never told a soul the identity of Kaya’s father, and when the constant whispering and innuendo became too much of an annoyance, she left the Montserrat Hills of Tortuga with her infant son and moved in with her mother in Coconut Grove.

In this seaside town, no one dared trouble Josephine, at least not while her mother was still alive. Most people were utterly terrified of Florence Peters, the dark, imposing woman the townsfolk called Mama Flo. According to a popular local legend, Mama Flo, the proud descendant of a powerful African family, had turned an old suitor into a frog after catching him in a compromising position with her best friend. Several stories exist regarding the fate of Mama Flo’s former friend, but most inhabitants of Coconut Grove agreed that the poor woman had been turned into a blight-infected silk cotton tree.

Years later, having defiantly vowed never to trust her heart to the whims of men, Mama Flo met Ekon Arius Abaniah, a tall, dark, handsome stonemason from Barbados that everyone, except Mama Flo, called Papa Choonks. However, Josephine’s parents would never marry. Their whirlwind romance led to an engagement that abruptly ended, when Ekon was struck down, while hurrying home during an unexpected thunderstorm. The local coroner blamed ball lightning for Ekon’s death. There had been several eyewitness accounts of the bizarre natural phenomenon that fateful evening. However, privately, Mama Flo never accepted the coroner’s verdict. Long before she peacefully passed away in her sleep, Mama Flo told Josephine that Ekon had been murdered by one of the women he spurned in Coconut Grove. This particular woman, she claimed, was secretly a powerful witch. However, to Josephine’s dismay, Mama Flo stubbornly refused to reveal the woman’s identity, saying she had no proof of her guilt. In her twilight years, Mama Flo often sat in her old rocking chair, softly singing old-fashioned melancholy songs.

And sometimes, she’d look in awe at Josephine, going about her housework, and she’d whisper sadly, “Poor Ekon. Boy yuh never know ah was makin’ dis chile when de Soucouyant take yuh from meh. Buh watch yuh daughter boy, look how she grow up strong like she fadah.”

In this day and age, most people would treat the old stories of the Soucouyant, a vampiric witch that roamed the night in the guise of a fireball, as the stuff of folklore. But, Josephine knew better. Mama Flo had raised Josephine alone, and Josephine raised Kaya in a similar fashion. At the first signs of illness, Josephine had given Kaya tea made from what Mr Chen, the pharmacist, called chen pi.

At first, Kaya protested the way most normal fourteen-year-old Trinbagonian boys, in his predicament, would have. “Mammy, I ent drinking Chen pee!”

But, Josephine, the sole proprietor of Josephine’s Flower Shop, knew a thing or two about herbs, plants and Chinese medicine.

She explained to Kaya, “Chen pi is de Chinese name fuh dried orange peel. Yuh doh remember yuh granny used to give yuh orange peel tea when yuh were small?”

Of course, Kaya remembered this. He recalled Mama Flo telling his mother on more than one occasion, “Josephine, doh bother wit any ah dem fancy capsule or tablet. Give de boy orange peel tea fuh de cold an’ tuh stop de ague.”

Ague was what people of Mama Flo’s generation called fever, and that’s exactly what Kaya had now. Orange peel tea, perhaps the most pleasant of Mama Flo’s medicinal concoctions, certainly tasted a hundred times better than karaili juice. Momordica charantia, known as karaili, bitter melon or bitter gourd is without exaggeration one of the bitterest vegetables known to humanity.

Mama Flo often warned Kaya, “If you doh drink dis down, crapaud smoke yuh pipe.”

And, he knew if he did not drink the foul-smelling, bitter-tasting mixture, he’d have a painful appointment with a guava whip. Kaya thanked God his mother did not share his grandmother’s grim zeal or her unshakeable faith in the dubious medicinal properties of the green, warty-looking menace. But, since Mama Flo’s death two years ago, unwilling to take any chances with his precious taste buds, Kaya had developed the habit of ripping up and burning any of the karaili vines and fruit that occasionally sprouted in the garden. The mere memory of the evil taste of karaili made him shiver even more as he tucked himself back into the security of his thick blanket.

Because of his illness, Kaya had already missed the first three days of the college term, and it bothered him that he could not do anything to stop Artimus Corbeau from harassing Raima Khan. Artimus, a fifteen-year-old spoilt rich kid, a class prefect and bully, had the honour of being Kaya’s enemy. Kaya delighted in frequently reminding Artimus that corbeaux, pronounced cobo, was the name Trinidadians gave to the local black vulture; an incredibly ugly bird with a tendency to congregate in the vicinity of garbage dumps. Raima also came from a wealthy family, but had no airs and never uttered a rude word or a condescending remark, at least not to Kaya. For this reason, Kaya appointed himself Raima’s knight in shining armour. And, the fact that Kaya considered her to be the prettiest girl at Paria College had absolutely nothing to do with it.

 

A loud crack of thunder woke Kaya. Lying on his back, he opened his eyes to be temporarily confused by silvery-blue flashes and deep shadows dancing on the ceiling. Confusion transformed into fear when Kaya realised that he could only move his eyes. Instinctively, he looked to where he remembered his mother had fallen asleep, but no one occupied the rocking chair. Utterly exhausted from her three-night vigil at Kaya’s bedside, Josephine had retired to her room, and not even the thunderstorm could have woken her now.

Nevertheless, Kaya felt a presence in the darkness. Did a thief use the thunderstorm to mask a forced entry into the house? It would not be far-fetched for a criminal to assume that Josephine hid some of the takings from her shop at home. Kaya wanted to call out, but his mouth did not function.

He heard a deep, earthy voice say, “Go back to sleep, Hezekiah.”

Hezekiah? Nobody call meh Hezekiah.

“It is your name.”

Yeah, buh…. Who is dat?

“I am a figment of your imagination.”

Yuh t’ink ah schupid, awa?

“Not stupid. Delirious. You are experiencing a hallucination.”

So, yuh mean tuh tell me, dis is ah dream?

“Yes, Hezekiah, you are dreaming.”

How come ah dreamin’ if yuh askin’ meh tuh go back tuh sleep?

“You are in a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep.”

Is dat why yuh talkin’ funny?

“What do you mean?”

Yuh soundin’ like ah real Englishman.

“I am communicating in English, but I am not an Englishman. I am your subconscious mind.”

Ah never realise meh subconscious mind could tell lies in perfect English.

“Go back to sleep, Hezekiah.”

Kaya was about to think up another witty retort, but the shadow of a man glided towards him, and he felt overpowering fear.

“Your illness is not natural. You will be better by sunrise, but be careful what you eat or drink. There are those who would do you harm.”

Kaya noticed that the silhouetted man held something in his right hand, which looked like a baton or cane. He heard a low hum and his eyelids felt suddenly heavy; and, as the thunderstorm headed out to sea, Kaya drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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Barry K. Nelson – McKenzie Files

005Title: McKenzie Files

Author: Barry K. Nelson

ISBN or ASIN: 9781935563617

Page count: 210

Genre: science fiction

Price (Print and Ebook): Print book $10.99.  Ebook $2.99

 

Author Bio:

Barry K. Nelson is a science fiction writer living in Clairton PA. Age 55. He is the author of the McKenzie Files science fiction series. He enjoyed movies, Marvel Comics, gardening, X-Box 360 gaming.

 

Tell us about your book:

McKenzie files is a science fiction series introducing my main characters Colin McKenzie, Diane Christy, and Kelly Lytton. The series takes place in the far future where a viral outbreak on Earth has forced the human race to establish a new home in a far quadrant of space. They create an empire of colony worlds called the United Protectorate. But humanity doesn’t get to enjoy a period of peace when a hostile alien race, The Brelac, invade the Protecorate with the intention to exterminate the human race. Reploid heroes, Colin, Diane, and Kelly, genetically engineered beings with super powers are called upon to deal with the Brelac and their traitorous human allies as they create a super weapon that is capable of bringing the protectorate to it’s knees. My McKenzie Files series currently has three books. McKenzie Files Book One. Assassination Anxiety, McKenzie Files Book Two. And Obliteration, McKenzie Files Book Three. My series is under Penumbra Publishing.

 

Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:

I’ve been writing for several years. My biggest influences were Star Wars, Star Trek, and marvel comics. My series has been considered to be a cross between X-Men and Star Wars. I’m currently working of the fourth installment to the series.

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

McKenzie Files can be found on Amazon.com books and Barnes and Noble.com

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?
https://www.createspace.com/3667787

 

Excerpt from book:

For a moment the Brelac stood before Fenlow and remained silent. Fenlow was apprehensive as to what would happen next. He had limited personal involvement with these creatures, but knew that they were as unpredictable as they were vicious.

The Brelac spoke, uttering a deep growl to slowly form a single name, “Fenlow. So, you’re the Great Doctor Fenlow. One of the first traitors in the brief history of this war. We finally meet.”

Fenlow was quick to voice his indignity to that unsavory title. “I find the word, traitor to be a little too malignant to suit my purpose. I’d like to think of myself as an entrepreneur.”

The Brelac growled again. Showing rows of sharp teeth. “Traitor, entrepreneur. It’s all the same to me. The point is that you’re here. Now the question is why are you here?”

“I’m here to speak to Bane Mariner. I have a proposition for him.”

“You are addressing Governor General Bane Mariner. Supreme Commander of the Brelac Empire. And I hope that your proposition is worth my time.”

“It is,” Fenlow assured him. “What I’m about to propose will greatly benefit both you and my company.”

“Carp Technologies,” Mariner stated. “I admire your company. Playing both sides of the war for their own benefit. All the while maintaining the facade of a benevolent corporation serving your little corner of the universe. I wonder what your people would say if they knew that you and your company were working with us to create the Reploid menace?”

Fenlow had unfortunate news that he was sure that Mariner would not like. “I’m afraid that the Reploid program has been discontinued for the present time. Especially the advanced Reploids. En-route to Helios on the planet Meridan one of your shuttles carrying several advanced Reploid units was shot down by Protectorate forces. Three Reploids were captured by the military. Carp considered this to be a threat to company security and decided to halt the project.”

Fenlow was withholding the fact that he had recommended halting the Reploid project. Aided by Carp’s resources, Fenlow produced the Reploids in a laboratory within a company research vessel that was stationed at a secret location in space. Fenlow notified his Brelac contact on a secured channel when each shipment of Reploids would be due for delivery. The ship would then set a course to meet a Brelac transport shuttle at a designated rendezvous point in space.

Curious about the Brelac’s vision without the use of physical eyes Fenlow had asked to examine their psionic implants. After months of extensive research Fenlow was able to create a more advanced version of the implants. He promised to deliver dozens of Reploids armed with the implants to help the Brelac achieve a swifter victory. This was Fenlow’s and Carp Technologies darkest secret. These were highly treasonous acts that would certainly earn Fenlow and others within Carp Technologies a swift death sentence.

“Those Reploids in the hands of your military could pose a problem,” Mariner stated.

“They’re no threat. There’s only three of them. The military will make limited use of their abilities. And I’ve already taken steps to diminish their effectiveness,” Fenlow paused. “Carp’s board of directors have decided to move forward with Operation Broad Axe. I have to do what I can to insure that the plan is successful. This means that I have to begin some of the more advanced projects that I’ve been working on.”

“And you need my help to pull all this off,” Mariner added. He turned silent as he studied Fenlow. “Let him go,” he growled to the guards escorting Fenlow. Both guards raised their left hands to their heads in a military salute and exited the hall with haste.

Fenlow thought that it was curious how the two Brelac saluted in such a fashion. As if they were mimicking Human troopers. He suspected that he would learn a great deal about these creatures by working closely among them in the days ahead.

“Fix this man a seat next to mine,” Mariner blared out. “He’s my guest of honor.”

The attendants serving food and drink quickly provided a place at the table on Mariner’s right side. As soon as Fenlow sat down he found a dinner plate waiting for him. Using a long, two pronged fork the attendant quickly loaded his plate with three long sections of those pale, snake-like meats. He next received two of the centipedes, steam still rising from their cooked bodies. Lastly the attendant gave him a section of the red meat with three rib bones poking out. Fenlow stared at his plate. The appearance of the food before him was nauseating enough. But it’s oily smell combined with a sour milk odor left him paralyzed. Mariner silently faced him. As if he were studying Fenlow. A thin stream of saliva dripped out of the right side of his mouth. Fenlow received an eerie feeling from the close sight of Mariner’s scaley face with the long pointed teeth constantly grinning.

Fenlow nervously cleared his throat. “I suppose you’re not serving any salads.”

A faint, hoarse growl came from Mariner’s throat. “Nothing so elaborate here.”

Fenlow nodded, “I see.” He looked to the left and right side of his plate and saw that there were no silverware items present. He quietly groaned in frustration. It was evident that the Brelac were eating with their hands. Still, Fenlow desired to blend in here with his hosts. He picked up a centipede. It was warm and soft to the touch. He held it up to his face. At least he was able to distinguish which item smelled like sour milk.

A deep grunt came from Mariner’s mouth. “You look like you were just kissed by Pandora. Don’t worry, Doctor. It won’t bite you back.”

Kissed by Pandora. Fenlow thought that it was a strange terminology to use. He thought that perhaps it was an example of their alien culture. But the name, Pandora stuck in his mind. There was something familiar about it. He thought that this would be the perfect time to get a little more background on his allies. He laid his centipede back down on his plate but kept his hand on it.

“So, I’ve done a little research and found that you Brelac are Reploids yourselves.”

“To a degree we are all the same,” Mariner sluggishly droned out. “Our race needed a technological means to insure it’s continuation.”

“A technological means,” Fenlow repeated. “And what of your females? I noticed that through all the grunting and growling from you Brelac you all sound male.”

“We are all the same, as I have already explained,” said Mariner. “We have created the means of producing the perfect military force. Our soldiers originate from templates that are devoid of fear, unhindered by compassionate doubts, and minds that are not mired by the frivolous aberrations that obstruct you Humans.”

“What about these original templates that you mentioned? I’m assuming that it’s some sort of original genetic stock.”

Mariner explained, “Our original source is centuries old and continues to endure. But it’s history is not important. All that matters is that it serves us as we produce our numbers en-masse in order to achieve our objective.”

“And that objective would be?” asked Fenlow. Suspecting what the answer would be.

“To spread ourselves across this universe and administer retribution to all opposition. That is our mission passed down to us through the generations. This is what we will achieve. You will help us.”

Fenlow pondered Mariner’s words. The Brelac mission of conquest and retribution. It was a chilling thought. But his job was to find a way to work Carp Technologies’s interests into this mission so that their plans could materialize unscathed. “I’ll help you,” Fenlow told him. He took a long look at the centipede he was holding. He picked it up and slowly raised it to his face. He held his breath to try and avoid it’s smell. He opened his mouth.

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Jo Barney – Edith

EDITH-front-cover-with-text-2Title: Edith

Author: Jo Barney

ISBN or ASIN: 978150530088

Page count: 288

Genre: Women’s literary fictiion

Price (Print and Ebook): ebook:  $2.99; Paperback: $12.95

 

Author Bio:

After years of wifing, mothering, teaching, counseling, friending and cleaning house, with writing as a buffer between these layers of her days, Jo Barney is finally able to write almost full time. She still cleans the house and wifes a little, but she’s pleased that her essays and short stories have found places in literary magazines and other publications. At one point, she gathered the courage to begin writing novels for contemporary women–about teaching and counseling, mothering and wifing, friendships,  and even a thriller about an older woman who cleans off the tagged mailboxes in her neighborhood and finds a serial killer.

Jo feels so fortunate to have the chance to look back and find truths that not only are meaningful to her, but to many other women.  UPRUSH, the story of four women asked to do the unthinkable, is available in ebook form and as a paperback.

 

Tell us about your book:

Edith Finlay has lived the unfinished life of any umber of women in their sixties. The question she and they ask isn’t “Is this all there is?” It’s more like, “When did I drop the reins?” In fact, when Edith wakes to find her husband of forty-seven years lying dead next to her, her first concern is the Christmas strata she’s to bake in an hour or so.

Art’s death offers Edith one last chance at taking control of her life  Scraps in Art’s pocket send her on a search for answers to his secrets.  She discovers a lover, maybe, a prostitute, sometimes, and her son, a man of secrets also.  She also finds herself, the real Edith.

 

Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:

This is my third published novel, and all three of them are stories of older women.  “Write what you know,” they say and these books are part of my exploration the uncharted trail in that direction.  What I’ve discovered is that this path is lined with adventure, unexpected joy, and challenges that make each step exiting.  And potholes, of course. My characters learn to deal with potholes in their travels and move ahead without a whole lot of fear.  Just as I would like to .

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

Amazon, B&N, and Createspace.  )

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?
My webpage:  www.jobarneywrites.com and my blog: breakoutnovelarace.blogspot. com

 

Excerpt from book:

EDITH

PROLOGUE

“Yeah?” a voice asks when he rings the bell.

“I’ve got something nice for you,” he answers.

A buzzer lets him in, and he finds Patsy’s door open at the top of the stairs.

Inside, a tattered blind defends the only window. A woman, gray irises glowing beneath heavy eyelids, greets him from a narrow bed pushed against one wall. “One hundred dollars,” she says as she lifts a bottle to her lips. She frowns, shakes it, and sets it down on the table beside her.

Art knows the minute he sees her sprawled across the bed, her privates showing, her robe ties clutching loosely at her waist, her voice soggy with drugs or alcohol or both, that he has made a mistake. There’ll be no talking to her.

She wheezes. “You said you got something nice for me. Where is it?”

“In my pocket. Fifty dollars, your going rate, Patsy.” He pulls a wad of bills out of his back pocket. “I heard you were worth it.”

“Yeah? From who?”

“Someone who said you’re really hot.” Nice touch, he congratulates himself. Maybe there’s still a chance to negotiate with her. Not about the sex. He can’t imagine doing it, but about the blackmail. “Can I sit down for a minute?”

“Sure, it’s Christmas isn’t it? I’ve been doing a little celebrating.” She shoves her body upright on her pillow, reaches with a dark, unsteady hand toward a second bottle on the nightstand. “Drink?”

Art has already had a couple of drinks, to get his courage up, before he drove to the street his son Brian had described. He’s glad he did. Patsy, her pale eyes now dimming under lowering eyelids, her boobs deflated at the edge of each armpit, her fingers touching herself as if they have a mind of their own, makes him shudder. He glances away from her, takes in the emptiness of the room.

A narrow bed presses against one wall. He slides a pile of clothes off a wooden chair and moves it closer to her. As he sits down, he knocks against a small sink stacked with bowls, a hot plate next to it. This hole is her home, not just a place of business. She pours a plastic tumbler half full of bourbon and leans forward to offer it to him, and he accepts it with a shrug.

“Like I said, it’s Christmas. And you look a little nervous.” When his fingers misfire and he spills some of the liquor on his pants, she caws a laugh and lifts the bottle again. “Come on, we don’t have all night…or do we? Hundred dollars, all night.”

“Let me finish my drink,” he says, and he drains his glass and looks for a place to put it. It slips and bounces on the floor. He doesn’t need any more alcohol; he’s slurring almost as much she is. And if he doesn’t do this fast, he’ll not even remember why he is here. “I’m not sure I can get it up. I’m a little drunk, and I’m really tired. I haven’t slept good the past couple of days.” He sits back, trying to gather the words he needs.

Patsy pokes under her pillow, pulls out a plastic tube, rattles it. “I use these when I need some sleep.” She pries off the lid, palms a few capsules, and holds her hand out to him, pulls it back. “After the fifty bucks, of course.” She shrugs. “Oh, hell, it’s Christmas.” She leans over the edge of the bed, tucks the pills into his jacket pocket, and flops back against the pillow. “Damn, I don’t feel so hot.”

She sprawls like a rag doll across the mattress, the whites of her eyes flashing as she blinks and lowers her lids, moans.

Art glances at her drink, lifts it to his lips, swallows, and wonders what he should do next. Cover her up at least. He stands up, pulls her robe over her crotch and breasts, and yanks at the blanket under her feet, but he can’t budge it. Patsy snores with a soft purr. She’ll be out for a long time, he decides. He has to get home. Edith will kill him if he misses the family’s Christmas brunch. He stumbles toward the door, and his arm brushes against a little Christmas tree sitting on the counter. Plastic. Earrings and satin-and-paper ribbons droop from its skinny branches. Even Patsy needs a tree, he thinks. A plastic ribbon catches between his fingers, and he’s not sure why, but he slides it into his pants pocket. Then he hears the woman stir, throw up, the vomit splashing on the floor. He smells the stink, and he doesn’t look back. Escaping through the doorway, what is left of her drink still in his hand, he feels his way down the dark stairs. He is hammered, but he has to talk to Brian, let him know that his father has failed him.
CHAPTER ONE

Christmas Morning, 1992

I wake up with a pop, the kind of jolt that informs me that I’m through sleeping, even if I close my eyes and try to bring back the warm arms that had wrapped around me, the music swirling behind my eyes. What I usually hear when I wake from this sort of dream is a raspy wind rushing through Art’s narrow nostrils, the angry snort that accompanies it, rattling the innerspring mattress that holds us afloat. This morning Art lies on his side, the snores silent.

Lately, whenever I wake up too early and try to sink back into a little more sleep, memories pick at me. Right now it is the memory of lying on a different mattress, one crunching with straw. I have not thought of that old mattress in years. What other almost-forgotten scene will rise up, depress me, if I don’t stretch my legs? I have to move and  trust that the usual cramp will relent, that I’ll be able to roll out from under the quilt and step into my slippers without going down on one knotted knee.

My feet brush the lump of soap that is under the bottom sheet. My thighs pull my knees up to my stomach, but I’m not quite ready to straighten my  legs, get out of bed.

The night Art found the bar of Ivory soap in our bed, he sneered at me, more of a twitch of his thin upper lip, as if he could barely hold back a ha. For leg cramps, I tried to explain. It was in the Oregonian. As usual, that scornful ha. Like the time he smelled the alcohol on my breath from the nine gin-soaked golden raisins that I had pulled out of the jar with a toothpick. For arthritis, the article said. Ha, Art said. And like last week when I suggested having the young new neighbors over for Christmas punch, and he blew out a loud puff of air before I could finish my sentence.

I close my eyes, remembering about the worst ha of all, that one last Fall. I’d read an article about people going back to college, not college really but the free classes offered for anyone over sixty-five at the university downtown. Maybe anthropology? I thought out loud. His lip curled. “Don’t be so stupid.”

I pull the comforter over my shoulder and try to stop remembering. I need a little more sleep before I face the day. Christmas morning. And my daughter-in-law, Kathleen. As usual, her fingers will wrench the potato peeler from mine, will take the old knife out of my hands as I slice the onions, will grab the garlic in the garlic thing and squeeze just once more. She’ll remind me, ever so gently, that the strata smells a little burnt. Kathleen believes she is being helpful. My son Brian, oblivious, now twisting in some sort of midlife whirl of his own, will pass his lips over my cheek as he opens my front door, will not hear me say as we touch, “I love you,” his eyes focused on the destructive small brood he has produced as it races to the packages under the tree.

Relief flooded me last year’s Christmas Day as I called out a final goodbye to my son’s family, their shopping bags full of shirts and electronic games, three hours after the morning had erupted. I leaned back against the closed door and saw Art slumped in his lounger asleep, avoiding the chaos, as usual.

Find some joy! yesterday’s horoscope had advised me. Right now, I’ll settle for coffee. I poke a foot out from under a tangled sheet. The air is morning-warm, the furnace groaning somewhere under me. I push the covers to one side, turn toward Art’s flannelled back, the wall he builds between us when he comes to our bed.

I know I’m being mean-spirited, a disposition Christmas always delivers like a seasonal virus. Joy, I tell myself again and touch Art’s hump of a shoulder, give it a poke. If I have to get up, layer the cheese strata, set the table, pick up yesterday’s newspapers, he at least can help by turning on the tree lights and starting the fire in the fireplace. Shit! I’ve forgotten the stockings. They, and the stuff I’ve collected to fill them over the past six months, are piled in a box in the closet. I shake him a little harder. “Get up!”

Art rolls over on his back. His blue eyes stare up at the ceiling fixture hanging above his head. His mouth is open, as if he’s taking a breath, but he isn’t rasping, gurgling, even blinking.

I rise up on an elbow. I pat his arm, bring my hand up to touch his cheek. His skin feels like that of an unripe peach, hard under whiskery fuzz. Cold.

“Art?”

My ear grazes his mouth as I listen for a breath. Silence. I press my hand against his chest, feel his pajama buttons with shaking fingers.

“Art?”

Art is dead.

 

It isn’t as if I never imagined him dying, leaving me to finish my life alone. At those times, the idea wasn’t frightening, maybe even the opposite. A new life for me once he was gone, I envisioned, a better life, maybe. But this actual moment was not part of that scene.  I drop my head back to my pillow and try to figure out what to do.

My breath isn’t taking hold. I seem to be leaking at the seams, lungs empty, about to be as dead as Art. I force my mouth to open, suck in air, push it out in a whoosh. The morning scrambles into focus: the unfilled socks, the strata, the fire, the tree lights. The dead man lying beside me. Three miles away, the grandchildren have gotten up, already wild with anticipation, are racing around, knocking each other about, not hearing their mother’s threats from the bathroom, not noticing their father’s jaw clenched, determined to get through the morning.

Like me, my son does not like Christmas. Genetic, we almost-joked last year, over a sickenly sweet eggnog as we watched Meg and Winston squabble about a useless toy, pieces of it already lost in the piles of colored tissue. Standing over us, Kathleen, her lips gripped in her steady, motherly smile, sent an unmistakable time-to-go look to her husband and gathered up the strewn toys.

I close my eyes. Christmas is difficult, but Christmas with a dead person as its centerpiece will be unbearable. Brian, a kind, open man, a good son, too sensitive, really, will have to deal with the unopened gifts piled in front of a cold fireplace, his disappointed children’s howls, his stalwartly competent wife patting his arm as he tries to find a way to say goodbye to a father who has remained a stranger to the end.

I know I can get through what’s next––I’m not crying, maybe won’t ever––but I’m sure Brian hasn’t rehearsed this death as I have. I feel a flush of a plan, and I sit up, search for my glasses. Yes. I will put Art aside for a day. I will tuck the comforter up around his chin, explain that he’s sick, shut the bedroom door, and go ahead with the morning’s ordeal. “Don’t wake Grandpa,” I’ll warn the children. I’ll let the wife meddle in the brunch, try not to care when the boy and girl tear open their gifts like little savages, hide their uneaten casserole under their napkins, whine as they edge toward the door, bounty in hand. I’ll wave at them as they climb into their car, leaving red-and-green garbage for me to clean up. I will whisper, as always, “I love you,” to my son as he raises a goodbye hand from the open car window. Then, after they disappear, I will call someone to take care of Art.

Yes, it can go that way.

I glance at my husband. He is still staring. I should close his eyes. With my thumb, I push down the lids, am relieved that they stay down. I get out of bed, find my glasses on the floor, turn back to the man I’ve left behind—no, who’s left me behind—and arrange the comforter over him.

On my way to the bathroom, I kick against his abandoned shoes, and I bend to pick up them up, along with his dirty socks, and then I understand that the plan won’t work. Nothing has changed. Art, and all of his carelessness, is still here. His ghost will wander the house, lips twitching. He will continue to make his ha sound at me, as he is doing at this moment. Later, after the strata, I will say goodbye at the door. Behind me, he will have sunk into his chair and fallen asleep. I’ll be angry as usual but at a ghost who won’t give a damn about us any more dead than he did alive.

I set the shoes in Art’s closet, go to the kitchen, to the telephone.

The ambulance arrives just as I am pulling my sweatshirt over my head. I fluff the sleep mats out of my hair and open the door. The men, their stiff blue uniforms shielding them from whatever they might find in my house, follow my pointing finger, and moments later, Art is on the gurney. They cover his face with a sheet, fill out a form, and tell me where I can find him when I am ready to make arrangements.

“Are you all right?” they ask. “Do you have someone to call?”

They look at me, seem to expect something more, tears, maybe. “I’m fine,” I answer. “I have a son.”

The older man touches my shoulder, his mouth curving in a practiced way. “Call him.” He squeezes my arm and follows the others out the door.

I go to the bedroom, see that some time in all this, Art has wet the bed. I pull off the sheets and cases, carry them to the washing machine, stuff them in.

Art is dead. I need to fill the stockings, hang them up.

Art is dead. I take the Christmas box out of the closet and set it on the hearth. A plastic doll with boobs stretches a manicured hand out to me.

Art is dead. A chocolate Santa goes in the grandboy’s sock. I imagine the hubbub when he peels off the foil and bites off its head before he’s eaten breakfast.

Art is dead. Four adult stockings lump in the bottom of the box, and I drop face cream and razorblades and Starbucks gift cards into their hollows.

Art is dead. I hang up all six stockings, even Art’s, on the hooks that have hidden under the mantel since that first child-filled Christmas morning in this house years ago.

Art is dead. Hands heavy against my knees, I push myself up from my squat in front of the fireplace and notice the bag of candy canes. “It’s Christmas,” I’ll say, when Kathleen frowns. I tuck one into each furry white cuff.

I am finished. I phone Brian.

“Art is dead.” The words fling themselves against the phone’s mouthpiece, fly back to my cheeks like sharp stones, bring a bitter glaze to my eyes. I blink, say, “Yes, he’s been taken away.” It seems important to add, “We can still do the stockings for the children.”

Brian arrives alone twenty minutes later, doesn’t wait for me to answer the door bell, rushes in. “I love you,” I whisper as he takes me in his arms, holds me tighter than I’ve been held in a long time, maybe forever.

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