Fiction: Hooked Up

Buck followed, having nowhere else to go. He glanced around at the filth and total confusion of the tiny place divided by a soiled and torn old quilt. The walls moved with bugs in the flickering candlelight.

Fred grabbed at Ginny, who wore a threadbare wrapper. She had a wonderfully white and soft-looking body, Buck noticed as Fred unwrapped her, but old evidence of smallpox marred her face, making her ugly. As soon as Buck thought it he remembered his own disfigurement in shame.

“Where’s the money? Money comes first, child,” Ginny demanded even as Fred shoved his hand between her legs.

Unusual drawings sat piled upon a small footstool and Buck went to them. They were shaky and crass but familiar.

“I’ll give you an extra fifty cents if you put it in your mouth, girl,” Fred bargained while unbuttoning his trousers. “But wait, what’s that mark at your mouth? You’re not diseased or anything, are you?”

“I had the pox as a girl …”

Buck looked up from the pictures and for a moment caught Ginny’s eyes. “Fred, she must be just Thankful’s age.”

The girl stopped what she was doing and glanced back at Buck. “Thankful?”

“Yes, our sister.”

“Who the hell cares?” Fred asked. “Go back to work.” He grabbed Ginny by the hair and jerked her head. “I’m paying, he isn’t. Listen to me if you don’t want any trouble.”

“Fred!” Buck shouted, but his voice hardly carried.

Buck watched as a tear rolled down the girl’s cheek. How desperate she must be to do this for fifty cents! “Miss Ginny, even now, right this very minute, there’s someone who wants better for you,” Buck said.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred shouted as something stirred behind the other side of the quilt.

Buck peeked around it. “Willy!”

The quilt hid the worst of the room’s mess. Empty bottles and crumpled papers littered the floor.

“William, it’s me, Buck Crenshaw.”

“I know who you are,” William mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Why are you here?”

“Fred is—well, he’s with the girl.”

“My wife?” William asked, detached.

“I-I don’t know. I mean, I hope not. Not the girl on the other side?”

“Yes, so what? I wanted to do right by her … and she cares for me. Ginny doesn’t judge.”

PREVIOUS EPISODE

THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

 

Featured Image: The Awakening of Conscience by William Holman Hunt

Fiction: Gaming

“I want to make money and visit with real whores. As the teamster said, life’s short.” Fred gulped his last drink and down the road they went.

Quiet, almost sweet, music played somewhere within the gaming hall.

“I’ll wait out here, Fred.”

“Oh, no you won’t! Don’t be such a prig. Play one hand,” Fred urged him.

Buck had just a small amount of money saved from pawning his things and planned on buying Thankful a household trinket for her wedding, but if she was moving home there would be no point, he reasoned. Buck didn’t mind cards but hesitated.

“Say, Buck, you might win some money for the poor. Look, whatever you win tonight, I’ll match it and we’ll do a good deed with it,” Fred suggested. He pushed Buck along and sauntered in with a big smile.

“Oh, damn, the apostle is here with a friend,” someone said through the smoky haze.

“He won’t be doing any talking, men. I can assure you of that. Now let us in on a hand and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

The men laughed at Fred’s bravado and made room when he flashed his money. Buck, more tentatively, placed his small savings on the table.

Fred whispered, “Here’s to the poor.” After a few lucky hands, Fred proceeded to lose everything they had, all but four dollars. “Oh, well. It’s only money,” he announced, throwing his cards on the table. “I have more at home anyhow!”

Buck stalked out. Fred soon followed. “Sakes alive, what a night! Those men are damned good card players. I’ll have to bone up this last year at school or I’ll be laughed out of the army!”

“Now what’ll we do, Fred? I’m tired.”

“A fellow in there says there’s a place down the road we could spend the night cheap,” Fred said.

“With four dollars?”

“Yep. Follow me, Apostle.” Fred whistled.

Buck cursed under his breath but followed with hands shoved deep into his empty pockets.

They came upon a ruin of an adobe building with a sooty candle-lit window at the side and a falling-down, rotted door at the front. “What’s this place?” Buck’s stomach churned.

“It’s cozy in a way,” Fred said flashing a charming smile before knocking.

The door opened a crack with a loud creak and the sound of a smoker’s cough behind it. “What you want?”

“Mr. Beadle sent me this way. You open?” Fred asked.

“You got money?”

“‘Course.”

“It’s a dollar a poke—extra for anything else,” the woman said.

Buck pulled Fred back. “You can’t be serious, Fred. A dollar’s cheap even for here—this is disgusting. We can’t do this!”

“Cheap is good—it’s why I came out here tonight. I’m getting some western refreshment like it or not. You jinxed us at cards—at least give me this thrill.” Fred shoved Buck out of the way. “Let us in then, ma’am!”

The door opened, almost falling on them. The woman pushed it back in place. “My name’s Miss Ginny, sir. Come in.” Her doe eyes went to Buck lingering in the shadows. “Are you comin’ or ain’t you?”

PREVIOUS EPISODE of WEARY OF RUNNING

 

THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

Fiction: Sleeping Arrangements

“Mrs. Crenshaw, I want to apologize for my acid tongue earlier on,” Mrs. Markham said. “I was worried over Buck, as I’m sure you were, but that was no excuse.”

Margaret surveyed the plump, plain, little woman. “I accept your apology. We Easterners have high standards as far as manners go. I couldn’t possibly hold you to them.”

“I am from the East,” Mrs. Markham said, holding her chin a little higher.

“Oh. From where?”

“North Carolina.”

“Well, that’s not really east is it? It’s practically southern.”

“It is southern—where manners were born!” Mrs. Markham said.

“On the backs of the darkies,” Fred quipped.

Again there was a long silence. Thankful could smell Fahy’s perspiration and urine. She wondered if anyone else noticed.

Mrs. Markham took a deep breath. “Thankful and I have a few ideas for the wedding, Mrs. Crenshaw. I hope you don’t mind I’ve gone ahead and reserved the dance hall.”

Dance hall? Is my daughter to be married in a saloon? I know the lieutenant is Irish, but this is ridiculous! I’d prefer a Catholic church to that.”

“Mama, the dance hall is just here at the fort—for military celebrations,” Thankful explained. “It’s easily decorated—we thought some desert flowers and special lanterns from a friend of ours in town …”

“Desert flowers? Is that what I smell because, honestly, I’ll be sick if I don’t get air soon,” Margaret said.

Graham figured what the smell was and sympathized with the bitter, young lieutenant. “Margaret, we should walk the grounds and get our things.”

“Our things won’t fit in this tiny house, Graham,” she half whispered.

“Mother, Meg will sleep up with me, and Fred will share a tent with Buck. You and Father will stay in a nice wall tent.”

“A wall tent? Me? I’ve always told you that I’m afraid of tents—they fall down—and there are dragons and bugs creeping and crawling—oh no. I can’t! I won’t!” Margaret cried. “I thought at least after all the other disappointments Thankful might find us a proper roof to sleep under!”

“Mama, the tent is very nicely done up.”

Graham laughed. “It’ll be like old times in the army, Maggie. It’ll be fun.”

“I guess you forget that I was never in the army like the nurse you slept with last summer! Sleeping under canvas will only serve to remind me of how much you’ve hurt me!” Margaret sobbed, mopped her eyes, and stopped. “I will sleep with my girls.”

“But Mama, there’s no space.”

“We’ll make space,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Perfect then,” Margaret replied. “Tonight we can discuss my plans for my daughter’s wedding.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Markham said.

They stood for another moment.

“I’ll go get your things then, Margaret,” Graham said.

Fred and Buck followed him out.

“Well, this is some disaster, Father. I don’t like that Fahy a bit—seems angry.” Fred lit a cigar.

“Of course he’s angry—he can’t walk!”

Fred changed the subject. “So I guess you and Mama aren’t sleeping in the same room anymore.”

“That’s none of your damned business, Fred. Now just take these bags to your mother and leave me be.”

Fred shrugged and did as he was told.

Graham sat heavily upon one of their trunks.

“Father, are you all right?” Buck asked, suffering the same queasiness he had often experienced as a child when he worried about his father’s tenuous health.

Graham took out a cigar and offered one to his son.

“No, it irritates my throat now,” Buck said. “Father, are you sure you’re feeling well?”

Graham looked at him differently now, almost as a friend. “No, son. I’m not all right. When have I ever been? I married a woman I never loved and in avoiding her I neglected the needs of my children.”

LINK: PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

Fiction: The Invalid

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

Before Thankful or Lieutenant Fahy could respond, the Crenshaws stepped in from outside and crowded the hallway. Fahy grabbed his blanket and Thankful threw another over his useless legs. Without considering his feelings, Thankful took a small bottle of flower water from her pocket and poured it between the layered blankets to hide the smell of urine.

The door opened. “Mr. Fahy, are you all right?” Mrs. Markham asked when she saw his miserable face.

The lieutenant nodded, unable to speak. The Crenshaws filed in, looking at Fahy as if he were a curiosity in a freak show.

Thankful stood just behind the couch.

Graham extended his hand. “Mr. Fahy, good to meet you. Thankful says you make her happy.”

“Well, she’s a liar then,” Fahy said.

The family turned to Thankful. “Oh, he doesn’t mean it! He’s joking,” she said.

“Good thing you poked my sister before this happened,” Fred said, laughing.

“Fred Crenshaw, stop it at once!” Margaret demanded.

“Sorry, Mama.” Fred glared at Fahy.

Margaret sneezed. “Oh, it must be that smell of flowers—I suppose desert scents don’t agree with me.” She wrinkled her nose at Graham.

“Buck has told us all about your troubles, Mr. Fahy,” Graham said.

“Oh, has he? I guess he told you I was a thief and debtor—but those charges were dropped. Bloody scoundrels!”

Graham’s color rose at the sides of his thick neck. “I was meaning your paralysis. I’m sure you know I’m a doctor, and I believe we’ll be able to help you.”

“Do you know something the doctors here don’t?”

“No, but Thankful has mentioned that you might like to stay with us. There is a wonderful hospital in New York that I am associated with, and new cures are found all the time.”

“I need a miracle—got one, Buck?” Fahy asked before looking up at Graham. “No, I don’t want to live with you, sir.”

“But Thankful will need help and we can do that,” Graham said, anger slipping in now. “After the wedding, you may decide—once you know us better.”

“I don’t need to bloody know you. I want to be left alone. I told Thankful to call off the wedding, but …”

“But nothing!” Graham shouted. “Thankful will not have a bastard child! Never! If I have to drag you to this ceremony at gunpoint, I will!”

Everyone stared at him.

Fahy softened.  “Dr. Crenshaw, how will it be for Thankful? You realize the life I’ll lead. You understand. What about your daughter, sir?”

“If you had cared about her yourself, you wouldn’t have knocked her up, you bastard,” Fred said.

Graham replied to Fahy, “It’s because I love my daughter I don’t want her reputation sullied further. She needs to leave here and you may come and be well-cared for the rest of your days.”

Thankful cried. Fahy took her hand, and she came from behind the couch and sat beside him. “Sir, I always intended to marry your daughter. Maybe someone from above knew that we wouldn’t be able to have children if we waited.”

“Oh, don’t use God to defend your disgraceful behavior. God is decidedly opposed to having relations before marriage,” Fred said. “Isn’t that so, Buck?”

Buck looked out the window.

“God or no God, Thankful is going to have a baby. It’s too late to discuss morality and ethics,” Graham said.

“Of course,” Fahy said. “I will marry her, but I refuse to live as an unwanted guest in your home. Maybe I’ll go back to Dublin.”

“Dublin?” Thankful cried.

“Oh, I knew a soldier would be the death of me somehow!” Margaret moaned. “And he’s not even that handsome,” she whispered to Meg.

Fahy heard and Meg blushed. She went to him, her every movement proclaiming her disgust for invalids. Meg tried a smile, but could not look him in the eye. “Mr. Fahy, do you have a proper chair? Maybe then you could come to the dance. Thankful wrote how much you loved them … I mean … well, you can still listen to the music and get pushed around and all.”

Silence now prevailed until Mrs. Markham brought in cool tea. They gulped it down and stood waiting, each in their own thoughts.

READ THE : PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

Fiction: Into the Gloaming

“So now you give up and hide behind your little Bible studies and weird friends? You heap embarrassment upon the whole family. What will our friends at West Point say?”

“You’re no embarrassment, Buck,” Graham said. “It’s only that you’re lost in there somewhere behind those bandages. And you’re right to say I was never with you as a child. Please, after the wedding, come home to stay.”

Margaret interjected, “But leave this fanaticism behind, Buck. What would they say at First Presbyterian—and your father on the board! It’s nice to read the Bible now and again, and I’m proud of your memory work, but still, Buck, this is too much—it’s creepy even.”

“Buck was always creepy,” said Meg, but came over and kissed his hand. As obnoxious as he was, he was still family.

“I want to become a missionary,” Buck began.

Thankful interrupted. “Save that talk for another day.”

The family turned to her, staring in silence. Thankful embraced her sister and then Fred. She came to her father and looked up at him. “Forgive me, Father.”

“My pet, what have you let happen?” Graham said. “I so wanted you to do things before starting a family, but I love you as always.”

Thankful burst into relieved tears and turned to her mother.

“You stupid girl,” Margaret said repulsing Thankful’s attempt at embrace. “You don’t understand how much you’ve sacrificed, and your father’s health has suffered greatly. Don’t you realize how weak his heart is? I knew you’d disappoint me!”

“Margaret,” Graham said. “Stop.”

“No! I’ve raised a zealot and an adventuress—why can’t my children be normal?” Margaret cried. “Well, I guess we won’t be seeing much of you—being in the army.”

“Mother, we won’t be in the army,” Thankful said. “I was hoping to come live with you for a while.”

Margaret stepped back. “Oh, our house is so crowded.”

“There’s plenty of room, dear,” Graham assured her.

Thankful wiped a tear away.

“It’ll be all right,” Graham said. “We’ll help you with the baby. Where’s your sweetheart?” He was unable to hide his dislike for the unknown soldier. “We heard he was shot like Buck.”

“Oh, Father!” Thankful cried. “The army can’t keep him!”

“Keep him? What did he do?” Fred asked.

Thankful turned to Buck, who answered for her. “Fahy’s a—well, he’s a decent fellow, but he’ll never walk. He’s injured badly.”

“Thankful, shall we call off the wedding till you’ve had time to reflect?” Margaret suggested.

“Take us to him,” Graham ordered.

The doctor recommended that Buck stay at the infirmary, but he wanted to be with Thankful, so the family tramped off to Captain Markham’s home. Lieutenant Fahy, though officially discharged from the army, was staying with the Markhams until he decided where to take his bride. Mrs. Markham led the way and stopped in the barren front garden. “Thankful, why don’t you go in and see if Mr. Fahy is ready for visitors.”

They all stood, complaining in the heat. Mrs. Markham offered Buck the only cool spot in the yard. He politely refused.

Thankful entered the neat, little home afraid of Fahy’s mood. She tip-toed into the parlor decorated floor to ceiling with Captain Markham’s citations and framed photographs taken on his many military travels. Fahy sat where he’d been put, staring at the soldier’s life he no longer could enjoy. Thankful tapped on the door before entering with a hopeful smile.

“What the hell took you so long?” Fahy yelled.

“My poor thing, I’m sorry,” Thankful said with a kiss. “It’s just Buck was hurt again.”

“Is he dying?”

“No, his face …”

“Damn it, Thankful! I needed you!”

“Please, dear, tell me what’s the matter?”

“Are your parents here?”

“Yes, outside. Don’t be nervous.”

“Shit—the tube—it’s been leaking all the while you were away. There was nothing I could do. Oh, blast it! I can’t go through with this!”

Thankful lifted the blanket covering his urine saturated legs.

“I wish I were dead,” Fahy said.

“Don’t say it!”

“I can say anything I damn well want! That I can still do!”

Thankful wiped his forehead. “I’ll just clean you up.”

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

LINK: PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

“Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.” ― Gilles Deleuze

Do you love fictional MAPS as much as I do?

I love maps in books so much that I decided to make a map of my fictionalized version of nineteenth century Englewood, New Jersey which I included in the first edition of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD.

For a book series brimming with family drama, addiction and child abuse, my map turned out kinda cute. Life tends to look cute on the surface in certain neighborhoods and in certain time periods, but we all know that down every lane with the ticking away of every moment there are secrets hidden behind freshly painted doors.

englewood map cut (4)

 

 

 

When a desperate and addicted JOHN WELDON arrives on the McCullough doorsteps he enters a soft world with a pretty girl waiting for him:

Weldon considered bolting. He didn’t belong here, but after a quick glance toward the house he crouched down to run his fingers over the hilly pumpkin skins and the soft round tomatoes. Weldon pulled a furry leaf from the low-lying lamb’s ears and slipped it into his pocket. Sunny black-eyed Susans burst out where they’d be most pleasing. The wild lilies stood at attention like well-disciplined followers of an inspired leader. Weldon marveled at the planning. His visit was unplanned, unannounced—that had been a blunder. The McCullough family might not like such surprises, and it was still so early in the day.

He hadn’t slept, and the night had seemed forever. He had two or three days without the urges … just enough time to meet this girl—he’d stop for her.

interior map tenafly road (2)

Much later a young boy, WILLIAM WELDON, still grieving many losses, poisons a teacher at the Kursteiner School for Boys:

“It was just an old medicine bottle—blue pills, I think. We only thought it might make Mr. Finney queasy for the examination tomorrow.”

Mercury? My God—you could sicken the man for life or worse,” Scott yelled. “What were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry to say there is more to the plot. We found Mr. Finney’s grade book in with William’s things.”

“You’re a thief now too?” Scott asked and then turned to the secretary. “When will Mr. Kursteiner come by? I will have my wife and daughter ready for his arrival.”

Scott closed the door still gripping his grandson’s ear. William tried to pull away. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused?”

William tried to scratch free like an animal in a trap. “I don’t care! I hate Mr. Finney!”

“You hate everyone—do you plan to poison us all?” Scott dragged the boy through the hallway into the kitchen and toward the side door.

“You’d have done it too if he called you a liar and said things about your father!”

“No, I would not!”

“Then you’re just a dumb old coot!” Willy said as he pulled and got free. Out the side door he went, but Scott surprised him and caught him as he flew off the steps, landing with a great thud.

“You’ve become as savage as a meat ax, and I will have to put a stop to it if you will continue living in my house.”

“I don’t want to live here anyway!”

“Believe me, young man, I’d love to send you away, but your father won’t take you!” Scott continued, pulling his grandson toward Simon’s willow. With his strong right arm he kept hold of William, who began to plead. Scott ripped a long branch, still in bloom, from the tree. Unfortunately for William his school trousers were of a shoddy, thin weave and every strike across his backside stung as if hitting his skin directly.

englewood map cut (3)

My little map leads the reader past shops full of patent medicines, past hotels where hops are held and up the hill to where the Crenshaw family home sits. The Crenshaw siblings hide their own secrets behind the respectability of living on “The Hill.”

Tall and handsome BUCK CRENSHAW looks down upon the McCULLOUGH / WELDON family even as he envies the obvious love that is shown down on TENAFLY ROAD:

Buck skirted the room, his fingers running along the finely crafted bookcases until he came upon a scrapbook labeled in a sloppy masculine hand—“West Point Memories.” He touched it and Weldon saw.

“Oh, Buck, you might enjoy that,” Weldon said, feeling sorry for him. “It was Simon’s—Mrs. Weldon’s brother.”

“May I look at it?”

“Yes, of course.” Weldon took the museum piece off the shelf, as if letting Buck in on a great and happy secret. “Let’s find you a nice comfortable spot and some good light. There’s a blanket in here somewhere.” Weldon limped for the tattered throw hanging over a well-worn Scots-plaid chair.

Buck’s face flushed at the gracious attention. He sat where Weldon put him.

Graham watched with jealous eye. “Buck, we really should have made you comfortable at home.”

“This place stinks,” Fred said. “Must be a leak somewhere. I’d get that fixed if I were you, Weldon, or these medical books and other treasure will all go to ruin.”

Do you like seeing maps or imagining fictional worlds? Do you like making maps? Why are maps so fun?  I’d love to read your take on maps in the comments!

EXPLORE MORE MAPS AND TELL ME WHICH ONES YOU LIKE BEST!

20 GREAT MAPS OF FICTIONAL PLACES

LITERARY WONDERLANDS by Laura Miller

PLOTTED: A LITERARY ATLAS by Andrew DeGraff

PS~ Thank you AMY of HEARTH RIDGE for the inspiring this post with your INSTAGRAM!

englewood map

Fiction: Miss Peckham Departs

“I thought you wanted to research the Apaches?” Fahy asked.

“Yes, but I may never have that chance. Mr. Saint Kenyon won’t let me come along with you.”

“Why not? Did you ask Captain Markham? He might put in a word.” Fahy seemed disappointed in her and it irked Thankful.

“Maybe Miss Peckham has had enough of the military,” Thankful said.

“Oh no, but all the best officers are taken,” Miss Peckham replied with a grin. “So this is farewell.”

“Good riddance,” Thankful said with grim finality.

“Well, I guess, good luck, miss,” Fahy added, lingering a minute as if he had more to say. “I must be off. Kenyon is over there messing with my wagons.” He kissed Thankful. “I’ll see you before I go.”

Miss Peckham waved as Fahy trotted off and turned to Thankful. “Poor you, Miss Thankful. Looks like your lieutenant is far too ambitious for you. You must learn it sooner rather than later. Once they’re sexually satisfied they don’t have much time for women. Prepare yourself for slavery.”

“Do you ever have a hopeful, decent thing to say, Miss Peckham?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “About men? No.”

“They seem to like you a fair bit,” Thankful noted.

“I know how to stroke their egos—that’s an indispensable talent in a man’s world, isn’t it?” Miss Peckham said in her most self-satisfied way.

Thankful’s mother never once managed to pet her father’s ego. Thankful wasn’t sure how it was done.

“You know what is particularly sad about you, Thankful? You do have intelligence, but it’ll be wasted on the lieutenant. I don’t mean to say that Lieutenant Fahy isn’t clever and very handsome, but he has about as much respect for a woman’s mind as your Saint Paul does.”

“My Saint Paul?”

“I see what you read at your bedside—oh, holy one. What I don’t understand is how you could submit yourself to a man,” Miss Peckham said.

“It’s easy if you respect and admire him,” Thankful said weakly.

“Men aren’t gods,” Miss Peckham said as if letting Thankful in on a secret, “and Saint Paul would have us kept in bondage.”

“Have you really read what you speak of? Men must be prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith and family—that’s worthy of respect,” Thankful said.

“For your information—I’ve read bits and pieces of the Bible—one must understand the enemy to defeat it.”

“That’s blasphemous!” Thankful said.

“So what?  Why should I believe a book that can’t be proved and was written by men with their own best interests at heart?”

“It’s God and his love at the heart of the Bible . . .”

“Oh, please! Stop it before I vomit! Men are selfish swine. Christ is a fiction. Christians are at best naive and at worst plunderers and murderers, hidden behind masks of righteousness. It’s truly disgusting. I can’t tell you how many times in my childhood people prayed for me and my siblings when what we needed was warm clothes,” Miss Peckham said.

“Not all Christians are hypocrites,” Thankful said.

“You don’t know anything, Miss Thankful! How could you know in your perfect world? And look, just like Mary, you’re with child out of wedlock—though I doubt it was by a miraculous act of God. I’m sure it was just the average everyday lusts of a spoiled girl who has always done as she pleases!”

Thankful cried out. “I was foolish! I only did it to please him!”

“There, there, Thankful. It will all work out. The lieutenant will still marry you, I suppose.”

Thankful looked after the lieutenant, her breath knocked from her. “Of course he will. He loves me.”

“But you love Bill Weldon. How will that work?” Miss Peckham asked.

“You’re an evil woman who wants trouble for me. I don’t know why,” Thankful cried.

“Thankful, I don’t hate you. I just feel so impatient with you and girls like you. How can you not see the hell you’re in? Look at your choices in life—either marry a drunk from home or a self-interested soldier, who will treat you like a princess until you’re ravaged by childbirth and then will easily find another young thing on his travels. I know the type. I know all the types. I’m a keen observer of human nature and it’s far from inspiring. You may bury your head in a magical book for all the good it will do you. But I choose to work for change in the here and now.”

“So you plan to change men?” Thankful asked shakily.

“Yes, in fact I demand it of them. But it’s mothers—like you—who will have the ultimate responsibility. I fully believe that boys need to be brought up differently,” Miss Peckham said.

“I don’t want men to change,” Thankful replied.

“That’s because you’re deluded. It’s women like me who possess clear vision that will light the path to pure freedom for us all. We’ll show you how to be without men—to be seen as equals.”

“Well, I don’t want to be independent of men—not completely,” Thankful said.

“Men are slave masters—all of them—their power has corrupted them. Maybe once they were more like us.”

“God forbid!” Thankful cried.

“You are so beaten down that you hate your own sex!” Miss Peckham checked the time.

“No, I like being a girl. . .”

“A WOMAN! You’re a woman, for heaven’s sake!” Miss Peckham lectured.

“I like being a lady, but I wouldn’t want my husband to be one,” Thankful explained.

“Why not?!”

Thankful laughed. “Why not? Isn’t it clear as day? Without men there would be no civilization. It’s men who conquered the land and protected their families.”

“I can shoot as well as any man!” Miss Peckham responded.

“Maybe so, but not with children hanging off of you.”

“I don’t want children.”

Thankful wrapped her arms around her middle. A wave of nausea came over her. “Luckily civilization doesn’t depend upon you. My mother is domineering and disrespectful to men and that’s worked wonders in her marriage. My father tried to do right by her and she stomped on him until he was made a fool to his children and was hated by them. Finally, he found someone else.”

Miss Peckham clapped her hands. “See, men are mudsill. A woman stands up and a man’s only response is infidelity.”

“There are women who stand up, but there are more women who tear down—tear down each other and men too and even children! They want things their way and they want a power they despise once they have. My mother didn’t grow any happier each time she won her way with my father. I’d submit any day to a man over a woman. A good man wouldn’t dare treat me like most women have,” Thankful said.

“Oh, I’m sure that you have been terribly mistreated at your finishing schools and. . .”

Thankful trembled. She hated upset of any sort. “Look how you treat me, Miss Peckham.  You must realize that I’m scared and all alone. My only friend from home is a changed man from drinking and my fiancé is leaving me. And what have you done, but insult my faith, flirt with Mr. Fahy and abuse William? You have proven my point. I’m very happy you’re leaving.”

PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

Are You Emotionally Mature? Here’s How to Get There

“This was where the moment of maturity occurred: the place where they passed across an emotional frontier, the line that separates insecure ambition from likely success.” Making Haste From Babylon by Nick Bunker

As a writer of sagas about flawed people seeking redemption (usually from mistakes made in youth), the idea of emotional maturity has me pondering about emotional frontiers and how characters in books and those people in our real lives react to frontiers.

Some characters blanch as the emotional terrain before them comes into view. They hide along the edges of feeling, stranded in terror. They rationalize, keep secrets or drink self-pity by the pint. If only, if only . . . they seem to say.

Others plunge forward, stumbling, anxious, unthinkingly. A pride drives them. Criticism and praise prod them too quickly one way or the other. They curse the gods and run rough-shod over lessons unlearned in their futile efforts to satiate their immature ambitions.

Pruning lesser branches of the emotional tree produces stronger, mature specimens, but one must find a way to enter the frontier and not be chopped down by it. The frontier is where interesting characters live. Each character matures or dies. Even those who avoid the frontier one day are dismayed to discover the frontier has arrived at their doorstep.

Safe lives bring their own terrors and not of one’s choosing.

I decided to look at a few of my own characters to see where they stand:

JOHN WELDON hides his addiction.

THANKFUL CRENSHAW searches for the meaning of her own beauty in the arms of immature men.

BUCK CRENSHAW demands the world love him for his accomplishments because his mother does not.

Here are the marks of maturity according to Psychology Today:

A mature person is able to keep long-term commitments.

A mature person is unshaken by flattery or criticism.

A mature person possesses a spirit of humility.

A mature person’s decisions are based on character not feelings.

A mature person expresses gratitude consistently.

A mature person knows how to prioritize others before themselves.

A mature person seeks wisdom before acting.

After doing a quick inventory of myself, I have some work to do, but thank God for immature characters. We’d have no one to read or write about without them.

SIX LEVELS OF EMOTIONAL MATURITY

WHO’S IN CHARGE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL MATURITY?

10 HABITS TO ACHIEVE EMOTIONAL MATURITY

Readers and writers, do you have a favorite immature character?

How about an emotionally mature one?

Are you emotionally mature?

How did you get there?

***Painting by Anders Zorn

 

Fiction: The Parting Glass

Parting is sorrow for William and his father . . .

William slid out of bed and rummaged around for a bottle. All were empty, but his father left a few coins amounting to less than five dollars on the bureau—probably all he had to spare. “Damn him, making me the guilty one. How does he do it?” William mumbled, scooped up the change and was about to walk out when Jay Haviland arrived.

“Say, Bill, I saw your ghost on the street an hour ago—Robinson tells me it’s your old man—you’re the spitting image, cut from the same cloth . . .”

“Yes, he’s gone now. Why are you here?”

“Well, that’s a nice way to talk to your closest friend and confidante.” Haviland looked around the room haughtily.

“Why is it I’ve never in all these months seen or heard about your family if they’re such big bugs?” William asked.

“I told you, but you must have forgotten, Bill, that they’re touring Europe, Tibet and all,” Haviland said, eyeing Thankful’s watch.

William snapped it shut and put it in his pocket. “I thought you said Asia or Siberia?”

Haviland huffed as if offended, but smiled then. “Here, I’ve brought us some spirits—thought maybe to share with your fine father . . . anyway, my family will be just across Panama and off first to the South Seas and THEN Europe—I told you already.”

William had a talent for map making but knew almost nothing of the world. He figured his parents didn’t think he’d go very far anyway. “Give me some of that, Haviland. I feel like a celebration,” he said with great sarcasm.

“You? I thought you’d be all cut up over Miss Crenshaw and that ass Fahy.”

William slicked his hair, wiped the oil on his trousers and took a drink from Haviland’s bottle. “He’s not an ass really. He’s right for Thankful,” William said.

“Well, I saw the two the other day at the agency, and they were so close if Fahy farted Thankful could smell what he had taken for supper. I knew somethin’ was up.”

William took another drink.

“Watch it, bub, you’ll be washed out and passed out before we have a night. Did Father Weldon put you in funds? I’d have expected a more dashing and distinguished look for an old lieutenant, but he’s nothing better than a down-and-out rail worker,” Haviland laughed.

“I’ll not have you insult my father!”

Haviland searched William’s face with friendly condescension. “Your secrets are out William Weldon. You don’t come from eastern royalty after all so no need to talk all high falootin!”

“I’ve never said anything about royalty.”

“No need to get all heated in the desert, Bill. Let’s go to the barroom. The air ain’t so close there.”

“Fine.”

Haviland held the door and William stumbled out, already greatly influenced by Haviland’s “Tarantula Juice.” At the saloon, Haviland looked disappointed with the small change William pulled from his trousers, but said nothing. Two days of hard drinking with only the brief respite of his father’s visit made getting back to blind drunk easier for William. He held his glass unsteadily and toasted. “To my father. I hope he rots in Hell.”

Haviland touched the glass with his own disinterestedly. William’s head fell into his dirty hands.

“For the love of Christ, Bill, this is some celebration. You’ve gone plumb loco and I’m not happy with it. You’re bad company these days.”

William lifted his head long enough to order yet another drink. He gulped it down, but the image of his father sending him off at the train station a year ago would not allow for clear thinking. He had expected his mother to take his parting hard, but she’d been stoic. She kissed him, her eyes full of pain and pride, and she wished him luck. Weldon shook his son’s hand.

At the time William received it with cold formality; again his father came up short with no words of wisdom, no parting words at all. William found a window seat and looked up to the houses on the hill before craning his neck to see their own hill rising on the opposite side, the shabbier side. He slid out of his seat and into the other facing the depot and spotted his parents sitting on an out-of-the-way bench. His father’s walking stick—his one nice thing—was on the ground next to his mother’s faded parasol still open.

They didn’t scan the windows of the train for a last wave good bye. Their son was gone. And William stared at them in surprise at their emotion. Katherine looked empty, but his father hid his face as his shoulders shook. At the time William turned away repulsed at yet another sign of his father’s weakness.

William tried another drink, but couldn’t finish it. He stood to go. “I have to go home and tell my father . . .”

“Your father is long since gone, Bill. I saw him myself,” another drinker said to him. “He was coming from the apothecary shop then took the train.”

“Apothecary? The druggist?” William pushed his stool away and felt his way out. “Just forget it all; forget him. He’s worthless. . . .” William’s gut pained him, and he slouched under the staircase up to his room. It smelled of urine and was the only damp place in the whole town. He couldn’t take the heat or the steps. It was too hard. Everything was.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY of RUNNING

PHOTO courtesy Library of Congress

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

The Real (Fake) Lives of Authors

I’m a big fan of those feature stories that circulate on writer blogs and The Huffington Post about what famous authors wore. Or the ones about where they lived. Or the ones about the superstitions they had. All the while, as I gaze at the artfully photographed author posing as if in mid-thought, I’m aware of a small jealousy.  I know these things are fabricated for mass consumption. I really know it, and yet I still feel, because they had a better desk or cooler shoes, they had a leg up on the ladder of success.

The ones I remember most are the photos of great-looking authors who later went on to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to  studying the demise of celebrity authors–so tragic, so mesmerizing.

I think the real problem is photography. It captures just a moment–a perfect moment. The unreal moment when an author becomes famous. Even for the biggest writers the moments are only small things that happen for a few hours now and again.

It’s why reading about what authors do when not writing is so interesting. Are they really human? Are they witty all the time? Are they jerks to family? I know the answers but still need reassurance.

This weekend THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD about a dysfunctional family in the post-Civil War era received this review:

“*****I started this book without bothering to check the length. Had I done that, I may have changed my mind. So many of those books are full of pages that say nothing – or the same thing.

This is not one of those books. This is a piece of art – a story that flows from one page to the next, one year to the next, with absolute beauty. It was painful at times, full of raw emotion, but so beautifully, wonderfully written.

Well done!”

I was elated and grateful, of course.

But then we had to shoot one of our goats.

Yes, my favorite milking doe Kate who loved peanuts and affection has spent the last year barely hanging on. The vet hinted last year that she should be culled as a weak link in our herd, but I adored her and spent the winter injecting her with all sorts of remedies that didn’t work. In the thick of blizzards I was in the dark barn running my fingers over Kate’s rib cage looking for some fat to stick a needle in twice day.

When spring came on we thought we saw some hope, but then there was none. We researched the most painless, least stress inducing way to put her down: gun to the back of the head while she ate. I milked her one last time (we needed the milk for other goat kids) and brushed her–she liked that–and then I brought her into the big fenced in area to graze until my husband came home from work.

I did what everyone does in the movies–I took that one long look back at her and she at me. A little while later I heard the gunshot and that was it.

The next day my husband and I got into a two day fight about hummus–the stuff you put on crackers. When we spoke to each other again it was about the fact that one of our registered bucks turned out not to be a purebred Nubian. We had foolishly assumed he was and paid a purebred price a few years back but he was just an American Nubian (a step down in breeding circles). A customer of ours knew the breeder and pointed out our mistake  after I had advertised and sold a few babies as purebreds! I had to call everyone to apologize and offer to take back the babies or keep them for the $50 deposits they had given me. Luckily everyone was fine with getting great animals for a great price, but still I was mortified.

One of the babies was born with entroption (when eyelids turn under). I spoke with the vet and she assured me it was an easy fix and I could come by the next day and she’d walk me through the procedure. Instead I sat on her porch with a knocked-out baby goat on my lap as the vet with a tiny scalpel sliced off skin. The eyelid was HUGE like the vet had never seen. BTW, both of us humans were in a weird mix of farm clothes and pajamas since we thought we would only be injecting the lid with a tiny bit of penicillin.

I could also go on about our Golden Retriever whose face blew up after having eaten a bee this week, but the goat stories and last week’s post on the trials and tribulations of adoption are enough.

It’s raining again today. I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as weather manipulation. Photos of famous authors (and not so famous ones) are manipulated. The perfect turtleneck sweater, the relaxed sitting on the porch look, the deep in thought at typewriter pose . . . all fabricated, idealized versions of lives. Lives where writing is the obsession maybe but lives with a lot of mess. My life is no messier than others–it’s actually quite good despite goat shootings and bee stings.

I think for today I’ll luxuriate in a good review, knowing that for a brief few moments I took someone’s mind to another place.

MORE FUN LINKS:

WHAT WRITERS WEAR

WHAT WRITERS WEAR WHEN THEY WRITE AT HOME

THE CLOTHES BEHIND THE BOOKS