I apologize for not publishing last week’s excerpt 14 until midweek. It sat in drafts until I noticed it there.
Her Widow, the book, will not be released and available for purchase until November because the Kirkus pre-publication review will not arrive until November 9th. I will let you know when in November you can purchase it.
If you want to contact me about the release, make comments, or ask questions you can reach me at J
The climbing roses on the garage have reached the eaves and some early blooms have opened.
Today is our first full day at home. Yesterday afternoon when we returned from California, I couldn’t settle in. I was up to my old tricks, rearranging furniture, moving table here and lamp there, knowing it isn’t what or where things are, but me who is out of place. Out of place in a house I scraped and sanded and plastered and painted because my relationship to this old house has changed.
Perhaps in time I will discover who I am alone, or get back to who I was when I was a kid and on my own in the field in back of our house. And possibly I need to move on to start anew. That was my thought in California.
Sitting at the enamel topped table in the kitchen, I gaze out the screen door to the backyard and watch the dogs, sniffing the perimeter of the yard. They are taking their time checking out every bush and tree, perhaps for the scent of an interloper who wandered in while they were away.
The daffodils are spent but the peony bushes along the back walk are starting to bloom and the climbing rose bush is about to burst. The backyard where we sat on webbed lawn chairs to eat lunch, where we put up the badminton net in March and didn’t take it down until the first snowfall, that backyard is being reborn. This wonderful square of green where we played badminton until the sun was too low to find the birdie in the sky, where Cleo encountered her first skunk and got a ketchup bath, where we planted a vegetable garden and then a flower garden, is coming alive.
The hollyhock that once stood, tallest among our plants, in a line along the garage, and the bushy tomato plants, not pretty but promising, that were tied to the stockade fence, are not here, but the lilac tree is thick and three feet taller than the summer we sat in its scent and I read Before Our Eyes in manuscript to you. I will always associate the smell of lilac with that book.
When I go out to the yard now, I don’t go to read to someone, cut flowers for the table, or pluck a ripe tomato off the vine for supper. I go to watch the dogs chase a ball or a butterfly for sport. I watch them stop along the narrow walkway to the garage and roll over to rub bird excrement into the fur on their backs to satisfy some ancestral call.
Sitting here now, looking out the screen door I made our first year here, I see Caleb pawing something in the grass and I remember as a pup he dug up the tender leaves of lettuce growing in our vegetable garden. You screamed, “No!” and he ran straight to you to lick your face. Dogs are not so different from us, mitigating a clumsy move with a kiss.
Cleo and Caleb will be my salvation if I survive. They are full of life: their feet dancing and their tails wagging. When I watch them like this, I imagine I am one of them, and I begin to feel some lightness of being. I can count on them to show me a way to live in this now. When I lose myself in their play, I feel gratitude and not just for them but for all the things they adore.
The peony blossoms are putting everything else in the garden to shame.
Today was a quiet birthday by choice. The dogs and I went on a picnic. Sitting on the lawn at Clermont, overlooking the Hudson, I thought of all the birthday trips we took, and in particular our first to Sutter Creek and our walk back from town to our cottage late one night, hand in hand, stepping out of a street lamp’s light to kiss in the darkness and then whispering as we approached the cottages because everyone but us was asleep. My second favorite trip was to The Benbow Inn where we stayed up all night in the game room and put a puzzle together.
On my fiftieth birthday, we stayed at home and you threw me a party. You were in no shape to host a party but you were determined to do so. I watched you hang streamers on the back porch before the guests arrived, and then you went in to make strawberry shortcake for dessert. On the other side of the screen door, while you were putting the shortcake in the oven, I was busy re-hanging the streamers.
You pushed open the screen door to see what I was up to and asked me, “Why?”
“They looked puny,” I answered, and you gave me a look that I will never forget. You said nothing. You didn’t have to. Your mouth went slack like a wound and I was ashamed of myself.
You once pointed out to me that every time you set something down on a table top or shelf, I came up behind you and moved the paper weight slightly to the left or right, or I picked up a book and replaced it with a flower vase. It was painful to see myself as you sometimes saw me, to be reminded that I could be as critical and controlling as my mother, and I felt then as I have often felt, that your loving me was a gift I didn’t deserve.
On my fiftieth birthday, when you were doing better than your best, when you were heroic, I insulted your effort. Today on the lawn at Clermont, caught up in my shame of that memory, Caleb snatched the chicken sandwich from my lap and ran with it down toward the river. He’d had his eye on it, and when he noticed I was in another world he took advantage of me. It was what I deserved.