Hey, everyone! I realized that I never do book excerpts on here. I know! I know, right? What kind of author am I? Apparently, I am an author who fails to market.
But here’s an excerpt. I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it! That’s me marketing. 🙂
The Places We Hide
Hiding women are so similar; most of us are pretending that we aren’t hiding at all and we all seem to do it – the hiding – right out in the open.
The sky looms over the tops of the little colonials and Victorian houses that line lower Ledgelawn Avenue. The air breathes across the neighborhood like some sort of cold soldier, waiting for things to happen.
I haul in a bag of pellets off the front porch and into our living room and call for Lilly to hurry up before I open the heavy drapes by the loveseat window. I’m trying to make the room a tiny bit brighter, which is a losing battle, especially given the deep, gray color of the coastal Maine sky.
Winter will be fine this year.
I tell myself these sort of lies all the time. I tell myself that it is totally healthy to binge on Doritos after a meeting or that other mothers also hate quinoa. I tell myself that our lives are safe and good now. Safe and good. I tell myself that we won’t be found.
If I was a drinking kind of person, I would be tempted to pour myself some wine, but instead, I just settle into the couch and wait for Lilly to come downstairs. There’s a copy of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine on the round, farmhouse-industrial coffee table in front of me. It was on sale. Everything I buy is on sale.
It’s been over a year though; we’re safe.
When I pick up the book, the first page mentions rape. I put the book down and stare at it. Then I turn it over so I don’t have to see the blue cover and the woman’s face up in the sky or the words ‘triumphant national bestseller,’ even though I know those words probably mean that it has a happy ending. Right?
Books tend to be liars.
No. No, that doesn’t have to be true. For months, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t need to worry about things anymore. Lilly and I have made a life for ourselves. The threat of snowflakes doesn’t change that, doesn’t take away the safety and life that I’ve built. Still, the memories of another winter, a specific winter day, come blizzarding back to me. The screams that I didn’t realize were my own. Lilly in my arms, gasping for breath. Escaping out the window onto the porch roof. Convincing Lilly to jump into a neighbor’s arms. The house on fire behind us.
I pick up the book again. Winter will be over eventually. It’s only just starting. Obviously, I need to get used to it – to the short days and cold, the way the memories keep flooding back no matter how hard I try to push them down.
“Mommy! I’m ready!”
The happy noise of Lilly’s feet tap lightly down the dark-stained tops of the wooden stairs that we just re-stained last week. We painted the baseboards white, hiding the scuff marks of past owners. Moving on, starting over, everyone does it, just not quite so dramatically as we did.
“Hey there, cutie face,” I say as she rockets over to the couch wearing a glittery rainbow ballerina tutu over her unicorn leggings. She has her favorite pink wool giraffe sweater on and layered over that are the gold fairy wings that I bought her for her Halloween costume. She was a ballerina-fairy-kitty, a Lilly original. Today though, she’s topped her ensemble with a cowboy hat. “You look stylish.”
She beams. “Do I have to wear a coat?”
“But my fairy wings.” She points at them sticking out behind her.
“Need to come off in the car anyways.” I’m bringing her to a play date even though I still worry about not being with her 100 percent of the time. I push the unhealthy anxiety into my shoulder muscles.
Batting her eyelids, she leans forward. “Mommy. . .”
“They’ll be crushed. No self-respecting cowboy-ballerina-fairy wants crushed wings, right?”
“True that,” she says with the fierceness of a fashionista and slings off the wings. She pulls a piece of toast out from the folds of her costume. “My bread is boring.”
“Did you put butter on it?” I ask.
“No. That would stain my costume.”
“Not if you don’t put your snack in your costume, silly,” I say, standing up and tweaking her nose.
Taking her bread, I head to the kitchen and apply some butter pretty liberally. I know that the good mom handbook is against fat in children’s diets and also against excess sugar, but I’m sure that I’ve been not following the handbook for a while now. Relocating your daughter, giving yourself a new name and identity, probably doesn’t fit in with the perceptions of good mom either.
“Baby, come in here and eat your bread at the counter,” I call.
She skips into the kitchen and comes up to the little island/counter that separates the kitchen from our small dining area, which barely fits the table and bookcase that I’d put in it. The table came from Goodwill and had a million marks and scuffs on the wood, but I’d bought some ModPodge, fancy paper, and sponge applicators and made it prettier. It was good enough for us for now. And that is all that matters. Us.
Sighing, I head to the addition where the door to the basement, bathroom, and laundry are. I check the door to the little back deck and stare out at the fenced-in yard overlooking a short border of trees and then the town’s ballfield. Everything is secure. I let myself exhale for a second and lean against the big window, putting my forehead against the cold windowpane. I try so hard not to live in fear, to not be paranoid, and I usually think I’m successful, but then it’s habits like these that make me realize that I’m just fooling myself and that underneath the surface of everything is a constant fear made real by routines like this – double checking doors, first-floor windows, always knowing two escape routes from every room that we’re in.
Lilly comes in and grabs my hand. “You ready, Mommy?”
I am. I have to go take photos for the paper and she’s heading to her favorite friend’s house. The beautiful thing about Bar Harbor, Maine compared to Colorado is how quickly the families accepted us and took care of us. Everyone is constantly having playdates and book clubs and gatherings. Allegedly, it’s because in the summer everyone is so overwhelmed by the tourists and then in the winter everyone is so overwhelmed by the nothingness and white grays of winter that they have to gather together in warm places to remind themselves that there is light in the grayness and cold that is the winter world.
When we head back to the kitchen, it’s obvious that Lilly has devoured almost all of her bread and has half demolished an apple.
“You thirsty?” I ask, opening the refrigerator.
“Want some milk?” I wave the jug in front of her face. It’s one of our running gags because she hates it so much and I always pretend to forget that she hates it so much.
She makes a barfing noise while I mock surprise and gulp some milk out of the jug myself.
“That’s rude, Mommy.” She crosses her arms over her chest.
“I am a terrible, terrible human being and should go to prison right this second for such a serious offense.”
She just sticks her tongue out at me. I put the lid back on the milk and pull out an apple, which I toss to her. She catches it in one hand.
“Just in case you get hungry later.” I put the milk back in the refrigerator, inhale through my nose, which is supposed to help with anxiety and fear of it away. I’ve got to tell you though; it’s hard to fear anxiety when it lives inside you like a constant friend. You get used to it hanging around.
“They always feed me at Michelle’s,” Lilly says, studying the apple.
I hug her. “It’s just me trying to take care of you.”
“You’re such a mommy.” She hugs me back.
We put on winter jackets, hats, mittens and I resist the urge to recheck the back door and we go. I grab my camera bag and lock the front door behind us. Lilly skips down the sidewalk chanting, “Snow day. Snow day. Snow day.”
She scurries into our MINI Cooper the moment I hit the fob that unlocks the car. The afternoon air is brisk. We’ve survived many Colorado mountain winters so I doubt a winter on Maine’s coast is going to be a big deal. The ocean makes the island we live on warmer. The snow doesn’t get too deep – not compared to where we were before.
Walter Hildebrand, one of those cops that are more a stereotype than they should be thanks to his massive girth and love of donuts, honks the horn at us. It’s a cheerful honk and not what you expect from a patrol car.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he yells out his window, which he’s already rolling up again before we can respond.
It’s getting closer to Christmas. I’m secretly excited about our first Christmas alone, but also worried because the gifts aren’t going to be nearly as fancy or expensive as the gifts Lilly is used to. She wants a certain doll that costs so much money that I’ve complained about it to everyone I meet. The other big thing she wants is a Lego set that is legitimately the same amount as one week of my small reporter’s salary. And a dog. I grew up poor, lower middle class, but until now Lilly has grown up rich – scared, but rich. Things are drastically different.
“Buckle up, baby,” I say as she straps herself in.
“You don’t have to remind me, Mommy.” She cocks her head in a sort of arrogant way. “I’m a big girl.”
“And I’m very responsible.”
I scruff her hair. She smiles at me. And looking over my shoulder, I back out of the driveway onto Ledgelawn. There’s a massive tree in between my house and the neighbor’s house and it makes me nervous whenever I leave. Down the street, Sarah Lowell is walking her big old pittie, heading in the opposite direction from us. Directly across the street, Karol Baker, lifts up his hand in a wave. I toot the horn in reply and Lilly waves enthusiastically at Karol. She loves him because he has a yellow lab that he always lets her pet.
“I like this town,” she announces as we drive to her play date.Continue reading “The Places We Hide – an Excerpt”