All this to say, would you like to read the first chapter? As a sort of pledge to giving the world (aka my family, friends, and the few others I may persuade to care about it) my first novel, I thought I'd post the first chapter here. I welcome feedback so feel free to leave comments, and/or share this post with anyone who might enjoy reading it. Please don't copy and paste the text though, just share the post's link. Thanks!
The entryway of the house was small, barely two feet of peach speckled tile between the front door and the coat closet. Aillinn bumped her elbow on the adjoining wall as she came inside and slid open the folding door of the closet. She hung her damp jacket on the same wire hanger as yesterday. Tonight made three full days of rain. The duration was tiresome but tolerable after the record breaking heat southern
Michigan had experienced
in August and even the first weeks of September. That is, it was tolerable except
for the drives between Grand Rapids and Ravenna. Aillinn hated
driving in the rain.
She stepped onto the worn, brown carpet of the hallway, lingering at the edge of the living room. Flooring, paint, furniture, decorations; they collectively transported a person backward by a few decades. Aillinn paused now over the home’s scent – a familiar, lingering smell she supposed she should have noticed before tonight. Musty, mostly dry, like preserved flowers covered in dust. Other long gone scents rose in Aillinn’s imagination: bread in the oven, the lilac scented candles on the window sills, and, at this time of year, the juice of a hundred apples boiled down for applesauce. These were the rightful smells of her great-grandmother’s home. At least, they were, before the sofa had collected its uniform film of dust from disuse, before the television stopped showing nightly game show episodes, and before the backyard apple tree concluded its fruitful years.
A mirror in a wrought-iron, oval frame hung in the hallway between the two bedrooms. It was placed high on the wall, perfectly positioned for Aillinn’s height as well as her great-grandmother’s before a slight stoop had lowered her shoulders a few inches. Aillinn stopped in front of the glass and realized she hadn’t brushed her hair since morning. The thick, black strands hung heavily on her shoulders. She used her fingers to loosen a few tangles, making a mental note to schedule a trim. She hadn’t brushed it after work because of the hurry she was in to get out of her apartment. Changing from her slacks and blouse to jeans and a favorite t-shirt had only taken a couple minutes. There was no time to lose this evening. To anyone else, it might have appeared to be the same as all of her other visits in the preceding weeks and months, but Aillinn knew it was different. Or rather, it could be different. It could be. This is what Aillinn told Connor when he’d dropped by as she was putting on her shoes and coat.
Her longtime friend had doubted her. She’d cried wolf before, committing herself again and again to asking the questions no one in her family had asked her great-grandmother. If they’d ever tried, Aillinn didn’t know it. Connor had rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Sure, sure, if you say so.” Yet Aillinn was resolved. She’d been resolved plenty of times, he pointed out, and she knew he was right. He had made some attempts at conversation, describing his photo shoot that afternoon with toddler triplets, and complaining about the changes in plans for his parents’ anniversary party. While he talked, Aillinn had shooed him out the door and down the flight of steps to the parking lot. He’d seemed reluctant to leave, like there was more to be said. She realized this now, but between the rain and the desperate desire to retain her courage, Aillinn hadn’t noticed it as she hastily waved goodbye to him and climbed into her car.
At this mirror, steps from her great-grandmother’s bedroom, Aillinn put all thoughts of her friend from her head. She could feel today’s courage fading. It never lasted, never led to any follow through. Who was she to coax out the answers kept hidden for decades? Looking into her own violet eyes, Aillinn shook her head. The house’s thin, dusty scent filled her nose again. She turned away from the glass as tears shimmered at the edges of her eyes. Age, that’s all it is. Age and endings. Aillinn dragged her fingers through her hair once more and entered the bedroom. “Hello, Grandma.”
A smile spread over Annie Walcott’s face. “I thought I heard you arrive.”
Aillinn slid the rocking chair to Annie’s bedside as she had done countless times in the past months. “How’s the day treating you?” she asked.
“Quite well, now that you’re here,” Annie winked, papery wrinkles fanning from the corners of her green eyes. “Your grandma Megan used to ask your grandpa that question each day when he returned home from work. ‘Better, now that I’m home,’ Lee would say. Megan always waited to kiss him until he said it.”
Lately, more than ever before, everything in the present reminded Annie of something in the past. Last year, Annie was featured in a “Keys to Longevity” series on the local news. Now, at 103 years old, she had given up making it to Sunday Mass and relied on a cane if no one was there to help her get around the house. The time Annie spent in bed steadily increased, especially over the last six months.
Most of the furniture was removed from the spacious bedroom a while back, widening the paths for her to move about when she did leave the bed. A dresser remained in the corner, topped by an antique mirror and filled with clothing unlikely to be worn again. Next to Annie’s bed stood a small, square table. Its top was a pretty pattern of inlaid ceramic tiles in shades of yellow, green, and blue. Aillinn couldn’t recall anything sitting on that table except the present items: a dog-eared edition of the Psalms, a thin anthology of Irish poetry, and a framed photo of four generations. She looked at her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and her five year old self—Annie, Megan, Erin, and Aillinn—and realized they all had a very similar curve to their smiles.
“Is it still raining out there?” Annie asked, tilting her chin toward the closed curtains.
“Yeah, it still is. At this rate the ground won’t be dry until next spring.”
Aillinn’s eyes traveled from the little table to the bed. Annie sat against the oak headboard, supported by pillows and covered with a thin afghan that matched the red poppies on her nightgown. Annie removed her reading glasses and set them on the open book at her side.
“It’s Persuasion,” Annie volunteered, “my favorite Jane Austen. I’ve read it a dozen times, at least.”
“I think I read it for a class once,” Aillinn nodded, “or maybe that was a different one.”
Annie was incredulous. “Oh, Linny, you ought to remember it with more certainty. Perhaps you should read it without an assignment.”
Aillinn smiled at the sound of her childhood nickname, which only her great-grandmother made a habit of using. “I suppose I didn’t give my literature electives much attention. My marketing and PR projects were never ending. College hasn’t been an excuse for a couple years though so maybe I will read it. What is it about?”
“Everything a great story should include.” Annie punctuated her reply with a quick nod.
“Okay, how about this book of poetry? Why has that always been in here instead of on the living room bookshelves?”
Annie turned very slowly in the direction of the bedside table. Her eyes closed for a long moment before she reached for the book. “No one has ever asked before you.”
“I have wondered before, but it didn’t seem important to ask.”
“It is important. That’s why it stays in here.”
Annie’s face held an unmistakable earnestness. She handed over the book, open to its title page, and Aillinn read the handwritten words she found there.
“To Annie, with all my love between the pages.” Aillinn lifted the book to her face and peered over its worn edge. “Grandma, there’s no signature.”
“No?” She feigned surprise and they both laughed.
“Please, Grandma, who gave it to you?”
Annie took the book back, holding it tightly in one hand and stroking the spine with the other. For years her hands had shown her age, even while little else gave it away. Blue veins rose up beneath her wrinkled, ivory skin, and her knuckles were swollen and knobbed by arthritis. Her palms were smooth but their crisscrossing lines had multiplied and deepened with time.
She had not answered Aillinn’s request, nor did she refuse it. So, Aillinn ventured in a shaky whisper, “Was it my great-grandfather?”
The older woman lifted her face, pondering the inquiry.
Hesitation raced through Aillinn’s nerves. The unexpected opportunity to ask about her great-grandfather stared her down like a solemn dare. The confidence she’d carried here this evening had already fled but somehow she pressed on. “Who was he? Mom said she had no idea and that Grandma Megan didn’t know anything about her father except that he was Irish and you met during the war.”
“Well, that is all I told Megan.”
“Didn’t she ever ask to know more?”
“Other than when she was a young child, she asked only once. It was the day she married your Grandpa Lee. I knew better than to delve into that story just minutes before the wedding. I decided to tell her the next time she asked, when we had enough time to discuss it.”
“She never asked again, did she?”
“No,” Annie shook her head, weaving her fingertips through the stitches of the afghan, “and I didn’t bring it up.”
“Do you wish you had?” Aillinn’s voice dropped back to a whisper, wondering if she’d crossed a forbidden line. “Would you tell me?”
Annie met Aillinn’s hopeful gaze, holding it as she mulled over the request. “Well, Linny, I’m not sure if I could. I have spent so long not telling that story that I am uncertain how it should be told.”
Though the disappointment was surely written on her face, Aillinn was about to say it didn’t matter. Annie clicked her tongue though and added, “I can try to tell it. I just don’t know how it will go.”
As she leaned forward and set her feet flat on the white carpet, Aillinn’s smile widened. “You will? I want to know everything! How you met, why you couldn’t be together, everything!”
Annie chuckled and straightened her back against the pillows. “What sort of story do you think this is? I suppose you dreamt up some scandalous affair!”
Aillinn felt her cheeks flush. She remembered the time as a young girl when she had asked her mother why no one ever spoke of her great-grandfather.
That’s Grandma Annie’s business and she’s chosen not to discuss it. We need to respect that. Don’t go dreaming up some romantic love affair out of a soap opera. Those were simply different times than we live in now.
Her mother’s response was what first gave Aillinn the idea of a forbidden relationship, maybe even a scandal. She had assumed ever since that the couple never married, but her mother could not provide any of the details.
“That is what you thought!” Annie interrupted the memory. “Well, it’s best I set you right.”
“I think that is a very wise idea,” Aillinn agreed with a grateful smile.