Excerpt: Novel #1

After the father’s accidental death, a family struggles to stay together when harsh changes threaten its unity.


[Draft #1]

The first thing a visitor noticed upon entering the front door of Lena’s house was the grand staircase, its deep pinewood shining and beckoning the visitor to the second floor. To the right were French doors that opened into a large living room with a fireplace that welcomed on the coldest of evenings.

Most of the time, though, the visitor continued straight through the hallway and to the rear of the home where the kitchen was located. “Life begins and ends in the kitchen at the Reed house,” Winnie informed her visitors. She was always ready to tell her kitchen stories: the birth of Brent-Mitchell there on the floor, and how she had seen her brother-in-law’s accident while she stood at the sink washing dishes. She was quick to throw in her day-to-day observations so that her listeners wouldn’t dwell on the ugly events. The telling of those stories was her way of dealing with the grief, she told Lena. “The more I share it, the less I have to carry.”

The pressing chair held a place of honor in Winnie’s kitchen. She had been the one to insist on having her mother’s chair there and not in the living room. Milly argued with her, but in the end, Winnie had her way. There was no resisting her explanation that Mother Eugenia would rather be sitting with the rest of them (“She’s still here in spirit,” Winnie would say) than gathering dust in an underused living room.

Lena’s turn in the pressing chair came once a week, usually after lunch on Saturdays. After her morning’s disappointment, she was glad to be cooped up inside and out of view.

“Aunt Winnie’s not hurting you, now is she, Lena?”

“Nope.” Lena grimaced.

“You let me know if it hurts.”

Winnie refused to use chemicals in her hair styling: “You ever read the ingredients on the box? And you want me to put that on your hair? Uh-uh. No way. Who you gonna come and yell at when your hair all falls out? Yeah. I thought so.”

Lena tried her best to keep her head still as Winnie worked her hair. She knew her aunt looked forward to their time together, even though barely a word was said between them. Winnie had a technique and couldn’t be disturbed with chit-chat once she got started. Lena didn’t mind. She had heard her aunts discuss Winnie’s plan to own a beauty shop. Fixing Lena’s hair gave Winnie the opportunity to slip away, back some 40 years, before Digger came along and put a stop to her dream.

The smoke from the hot comb hung like a layer of fog. Winnie shook the comb for cooling and then ran it section by section through Lena’s hair. The mixture of hot iron and oiled hair gave off an aroma that was only pleasant in its familiarity. Lena didn’t mind the smell or the sizzling. For her it was the means to a hopeful end.

During her turns in the pressing chair, Lena tried to look at everything in the kitchen at least once before she settled on her father’s photograph. Antique salt and pepper shakers, flower vases made from glass jars, a yellowed clock radio, cookbooks arranged by height across the counter, pot holders and dish towels in Winnie’s favorite blues and yellows, the ceramic cat dish near the screen door, a toothpick holder, and the calendar from 1963 that shared a picture and a verse describing God’s majesty. She imagined where each item had originated and what caused Winnie to care so much that it ended up in her “museum,” one of the nicknames she had for her kitchen.

Her eyes moved to the photograph when she could no longer resist. His face rested in the frame she had given him a year ago last February. It had been the sixth day of the month, his birthday, and a fine one in its beginning. She smiled as she remembered the occasion for the photograph and then felt the hole in her soul begin to widen, as it did when she thought of him.

“Daddy.” Lena said the name silently. She closed her eyes and saw him walking into the kitchen. He lifted her up and she kissed the rough skin of his cheek.

Then her mind did that switch, and she saw it happen all over again.

End of excerpt from Untitled Novel #1 – Draft #1