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by Kathryn Magendie
Description: In this second book of Kathryn Magendie's much-praised series about the journey of a woman dealing with the ghosts of a dysfunctional family, Virginia Kate Carey seeks the loving commitment that eluded her in TENDER GRACES (currently nominated for a prestigious SIBA Book Award.) "Vee" is idealistic and naïve despite the witness she has served to the fractured heritage of her parents' and grandmother's dreams. Vee continues her journey toward wisdom, building small bridges over the chasms of hurt and longing. The inspiration of hope lingers in her. Tender Graces and now, Secret Graces, explores three women's lives: Daughter, Mother, Grandmother, and passes through the fulcrum of Virginia Kate's emerging life as a lover and mother and storyteller, chronicling the heart ache and hope of her family and herself. Excerpt: That night when the moon hid behind a cloud as we lay in bed, I climbed on Dylan and rode him all the way to my mountain. He was the bull from mythological stories, and hot steam blew from his nostrils. Higher and higher I took him, the sweat from my face gathering like the mountain's mist around the trees. I urged him to the top, but he reared beneath me, anxious and impatient. I was wild, and needed to go all the way and to the other side and back again. I threw back my head and my hair fell heavy against my back. Up up up I went, higher and higher. Forest critters' sounds flew from my tongue. I leaned down, put my tongue to his, gave him my sounds. I took in his taste and swallowed it down to mix with my marrow. I left him sweaty and wide-eyed and full up with himself. He pawed the ground, snorted, marked his land, and curled beside me. His cooling breath rustled the hairs on my neck as I panted, rolling the whites of my eyes.
eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, 2010 Trade Paperback
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [456 KB]
Reading time: 304-426 min.
"THIS MESSAGE IS FOR GUYS: It may have a soft, pink cover but it ain't that kind of book. Kathryn Magendie's Virginia Kate has plenty of what my grandmother called "brass," treats us to earfuls of authentic dialogue, and gradually reveals a story not easily forgotten. We will soon read more, I hope, from Magendie's pen. She's real." --Wayne Caldwell Author of Cataloochee and Requiem by Fire Readers met the incredible Carey women in TENDER GRACES "A prodigal daughter story . . . exuberant." --Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times "Lilting . . . well-told." --Baton Rouge (LA.) Advocate
Chapter 1 Today At Momma's house in the West Virginia holler
I stare out of Momma's kitchen window; those dancing curtains touch and pull away, touch and pull away, just as Momma had done all her life. Momma's house is emptied of the living, except for me. Grandma Faith rests on her star, tired from her journey back with me. She knows my heart, opened the way for me to begin so I can go on from here to what comes next.
After we released Katie Ivene Holms Carey into the West Virginia wind, other than the vials of ashes my brothers and I held to release her there and yonder as Momma wanted, I was left alone with the ghosts. My family, who'd come to the holler for Momma's memorial--Daddy, my daughter Adin, and my brothers, Micah, Andy, Bobby--lingered in the air at first, like the after-shadows that appear when looking at a flash of light that is here and then gone. As breaths of wind will scatter seeds, so they scattered. They'd all asked if I would leave with them, but I am not ready. The West Virginia mountains have again slipped into my blood, down into my marrow, running through me, rising to remind me of who I am and where I come from. My kin and me.
I can't let it end, not yet. Grandma Faith lured me here, to tell our stories.
I turn and cut on the fire for a cup of Momma's Maxwell House. Micah and Andy had made faces at the brew, but I didn't mind drinking Momma's instant coffee. The taste of it is a reminder of times in this kitchen.
While waiting for the water to boil in the kettle, I touch things: Momma's coffee cup, the rooster-handled sugar and creamer. The kitchen is old. The house is old. The floors are sagging, the steps out the front door are cracked, the walls need paint, but the old house doesn't seem worth the effort sprucing it would take. Who would live here? Not me. This was Momma's house, and it will never hold another person such as her. It can't even hold her spirit, I bet.
I think of returning to my Louisiana house, where its empty echoes as a silent symbol. But where I do not have to think so much of Momma and all we missed as mother and daughter. (Oh Momma! I needed you. Did you need me?)
Before he went back to New York, his Home I reckoned, Micah said, "If you're stubborn on staying here for a while until you finish what you need to finish, then go up to the house on the hill."
I'd answered, "That old lonely house. I've never been inside it."
My brother and I stared at the lonely house on the hill.
"I've got some people coming soon to work on it," he said.
"It needs love."
Micah nodded his head. Then he stuck his hand into his pocket, pulled out an old key. "Not that it's locked, but for later, just in case."
"I'm not going to live in it," I said. "I'm not staying in the holler."
The ghosts set up to excited whispering.
Micah pressed the key into my hand. "It's just for just in case." He'd hugged me, and before I could say Jiminy Christmas, he was gone. That's how my big brother did things. He appeared and disappeared as if he were a spirit his own self.
Andy and Bobby told me to call if I needed them. They'd never been able to talk me out of my ornery ways before and they weren't going to try then. Andy said, "I understand, Sister."
Bobby nodded, pushed his glasses up on his nose.
I hugged my younger brothers, wished them well and good trips back to Louisiana. Their Home.
Adin had said, "Mom, call me later." She'd pulled a scamp-face, said, "That Gary is cute. He's sweet on you, you know."
"I'm too old for all that foolishness.'
She rolled her eyes, showing me she truly was my daughter. "Haven't you heard your fifties are going to be like your thirties or something like that?"
I'd hugged Adin tight, giving her no rope to pull me to places I didn't want to go. Her blood is not my blood, our kin not related, but she is my own all the same. She wants for me, even when I don't want for myself. She climbed into the car with Bobby and Andy and Andy took off in a cloud of West Virginia dirt. I wondered if Louisiana would stay Adin's Home or if she'd soon wander.
Daddy spoke low and sad, his breath speaking of his own ironies, "My Bug. My dainty Ariel. You'll figure it all out."
I let him go on back to our good Rebekha, where she keeps him safe from his demons come to haunt him.
The coffee pot squeals; I take it off the fire and into my cup spoon a heaping teaspoon of coffee crystals, pour in the boiled water, add sugar, and then the cream my brothers bought at the grocery store in town. The click of spoon against cup is the only sound, save for Mrs. Anna Mendel's cat crying for food, and then the sound of her front screen door slamming shut. Could be her nephew come out to feed that old mangy cat. Could be, but why would I care to look to see if he's out there? I don't care a speck. Mrs. Anna Mendel always had a cat, just one, and they were always hungry and prowling. Maybe they were all the same cat, with ninety-nine lives lived in the holler.
I sip my coffee; it's good, hot, bittersweet.
The morning air is cool drifting in the windows, for the sun hasn't fully spilled its light over the ridges. I walk into the living room and before I can think to stop myself, I peek out the window. Old Mrs. Anna Mendel is in her garden and I wonder if she can see a thing. Gary steps out the door, and I hurry to slip away before he sees me. I take my coffee out back to watch the day come alive and think how later I'll mosey on over to Mrs. Anna Mendel's to ask if I can pick some of her tomatoes for my supper. That's the only thing I need from over there, things from her garden. Not a thing else.
A voice on the wind titters.
When I'd called Rebekha to check on her since she'd not felt comfortable coming to Momma's memorial, she'd talked about her own garden, and then asked how Daddy was holding up, how the boys and I were holding up. She'd been a good momma to us, and even though Katie Ivene hadn't let her adopt me, Micah, and Andy, Rebekha had treated us as if we were her own. As we chatted, I told her about Mrs. Anna Mendel's tomatoes, and how they made good tomato sandwiches thick with mayonnaise and salt and pepper.
Before we hung up, Rebekha told me she'd mailed the things I'd asked for, from the house I'd lived in with Dylan and then lived in alone for so very long after he'd packed his things and left. The rest of the letters, diaries, and photo albums I needed. I have more to set down. That's why I'm here. Why Grandma Faith poked at me so hard to come. That is what I now know. I'll write it all down, then leave the holler for good.
Someone drifts by, passes cool fingers along my neck, and I don't know who it is and what it wants from me. It's not Grandma Faith. Seems too soft a touch to be Momma, but then Momma has her surprising sides. Can it be the tiny touch of my little sweet one; no, it can't. I slip thoughts out of my brain, but I know certain thoughts will be back, because they must come back. How else will I record our stories all together in one place unless I relive the stories?
I lean against the sugar maple, feel the press of it against my shirt, sip from my cup, and think of all the years I'd felt alone. Not the alone of no family or a good friend, but that certain kind of alone of once having a husband and then not having one and then never having one again and telling myself I didn't feel lonely. My footsteps were the only footsteps in my house since Adin had moved away. Jinxie was long gone and I hadn't found another dog to replace him. And Dylan, well, Dylan said I was never his, when I'd thought it was the other way.
A breeze catches my hair and pushes it back. The thoughts of Dylan want to push me on back, too. I can feel it, that falling back back and back: the sunroom in the Louisiana house; the rocker where I'd rocked away the hours, looking out at the flowers and green grass, watching cars go by in the neighborhood; the lonely moments when I was not alone; my family and my good friends. Yet, the seclusion of the holler I'd fought against as a child has turned into something I ache for now.
I stretch out my legs and study my toes. The dark pink polish is chipped. Momma would have a fit over that. She kept her fingernails and toenails polished and if one little nick or chip showed, she'd re-do them on the spot. Momma knew how to make her pretty shine out. She knew how to dress and brush her hair and put on make-up. She learned it all from the fashion magazines she read. I suppose I didn't learn that from her, though I did try, sometimes. A sudden thought slams against me that Dylan and Momma would have been perfect for each other, even if they'd have destroyed each other. With my coffee I swallow that thought down as far as it will go into my innards.
Someone quietly calls, Virginia Kate ... Virginia Kate ...
I answer, "What do you want?"
The whispers grow. I can't sort through them. There is more than one. They rise all around me, coming from the mountains, pushing up from the ground, slipping from underneath the big rock, from inside my momma's house, down from the lonely house on the hill, rising watery from the creek. All the voices surround me, whisper, Virginia Kate ... Virginia Kate ... and then, Stay ... stay where you belong.
I close my eyes. Wind rushes at me and pushes me down into the ground, as if I'd grow roots and never leave the holler again. The sugar maple presses harder into my back.
There comes an image of me standing under an oak tree clutching a crowd of sunflowers. A Louisiana hot wind blows. It is the day I meet the man who changes the way I see myself, both good and bad.
I remember that girl. That girl had been afraid all her life. That girl had tried to pretend she wasn't afraid. And she gained and she lost and she knew she never had what she thought was hers, because she never fully gave of herself.
Another bitter pill to swallow with my coffee.
There under the sugar maple, I think of that hot wind, that oak tree as I pressed my back against it, the sunflowers gripped in my hand, the coming storms.
I let myself go back again. It is what I do. I go back and I tell our stories. It is what Grandma Faith taught me, that the stories become real in the telling.
I make the stories real.
There is a sigh on the wind. The spirits quiet for a time; they know to let me do what I have to do. I look off to my sweet sister mountain--to all our yesterdays--and then beyond, over the mountain, following creek and river and road, down to the sluggish and eerie swamps.
It's come time again to return to what's gone by.
Even the things that hurt.
Grandma Faith whispers, Be strong, little mite. Tell the stories.
Yes, Grandma, I will tell the stories.