My blog is a way for me to connect with other writers, readers as well as to hone my skills. So for today’s assignment, finding our audience, I decided to share an excerpt from my first novel: Three Empty Frames. It’s the first in a series of books I’m writing about my home region. I had finally worked up the courage to publish the complete manuscript in July. Bear in mind that the action is not going to flow as quickly as in a short story. If you enjoy it, the book can be purchased here.
Old Mick Monaghan liked to talk. Mick was serving a life sentence, no chance of parole. But unlike some of the other guys doing hard time in Langford State Correctional Facility, he was easy-going and good natured. Like most old timers, he told stories of his glory days. Not many of the guys listened to him anymore. They said he was getting senile. But Joey Castori listened to him.
Mick would’ve graduated in 1969 if he hadn’t dropped out to join the student uprising against the war. They were going to change the world, he said. He was a true believer. His little brother too. The group he belonged to didn’t mess around putting flowers in soldiers guns and all that other nonsense. They wanted to start a real revolution. The trouble was, Mick said, all real revolutions need money, lots of money. And getting lots of money meant taking big risks. And taking big risks had got his little brother killed and him a life sentence with no chance of parole.
Joey Castori got paroled with 18 months left on his sentence. His sister Maria picked him up at the prison gate. She said Uncle Louie would have work for him if he was a good boy and kept his head down. He said to Maria, “Boy, do I have a story to tell you.”
And he did tell her, on their way back to Philadelphia. When they pulled into Uncle Louie’s used car lot, Maria said, “Welcome back, Joey. It’s good to have you home.”
I watched dry eyed as Mother’s casket was lowered into the ground. Even though I was her only child, she regarded my unexpected arrival late in life, as an intrusion rather than a happy surprise. Mostly she ignored me, leaving all the day to day responsibilities to our housekeeper, Lucinda and the big decisions to Dad. For reasons unknown to me, she clung to her unhappiness like a security blanket and I swear it was the thing that finally killed her. She was dead at 68. And I found myself pretending to be sad at her funeral.
I held my father’s hand as the casket reached the bottom of the grave. “You all right, Dad?” I asked.
He sighed, “I wish I could’ve made her happy.”
“Dad,” I squeezed his hand. “You tried. I don’t think you could’ve done anything to make her happy. Happiness comes from within.”
“Sweetheart, you’re a remarkable young woman, you know that? You deserved better than what she gave you. Yet, you have a good head on your shoulders. I’m so proud of you, dear.”
“Dad, you more than made up for it. You were always there for me. I’m glad I make you proud.”
My father and I had always been close. He tells me I was his little shadow, following him into his office to pretend to “work” along side him in the evenings. Even though he had some pretty old fashioned ideas about proper careers for women, Dad sent me to school for engineering and hired me at the company he had founded.
We turned from the gravesite and began to walk back to the cars. Along the way, we exchanged farewells and thank yous with the small circle of friends and family that had joined us at the cemetery. Lucinda helped my father into the car, while I hugged my best friends Joni and Desdemona and promised to call them later.
“Join me for a drink and keep me company for a while?” Dad asked, as we pulled out of the cemetery road.
“Sure, Dad. I’d love to.”
I drove us back to my parents’ old Victorian home in Doylestown, the county seat of Bucks County, about an hour north of Philadelphia. I followed Dad into the house and helped him out of his coat. At 81, he was slowing down, but still spry for his age. He made his way down the hall and into his study, his favorite room. The space was manly and comfortable, a combination office, library and sitting room. The walls were lined with bookshelves that held everything from Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’ to Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Kane and Abel’. He also had a large desk, a drafting table and a pair of soft leather chairs. In a cabinet behind his desk, he kept bottles of good whiskey, cognac and bourbon along with tumblers and an ice maker.
“What’s your pleasure, Jen?”
“Whatever you’re having, Dad.” He poured an Irish whiskey and handed it to me. “Thanks.”
He poured one for himself and settled back in his chair. “So. What should we do with her things?”
“What’s the hurry? We can work on it a little at a time.”
“I’d just like to get it over with.” He gave me a wry smile, “I’m an old man. Who knows how much time I have left. Humor me.” He turned serious. “There is something I have to tell you, though.”
“I’ve decided to move out of the house.” He put up a hand to silence me. “This is too much house for me. I’m starting to hate going up and down the stairs all the time. I’m moving to Westlake Village. It has apartments, assisted living and nursing care, so when I start going downhill, I can move along the system without a lot of fuss. And before you say anything, Lucinda is going to Florida to live with her sister. We’ve got it all figured out.”
“Wow. That was fast.” I stared at the old desk that had belonged to Dad’s father before him and remembered the times, as a child, that I had taken refuge beneath it to escape my mother’s moods.
“I’d been trying to get your mother to downsize for years, but she wasn’t having any of it.” he grumbled. “My question is, do you want the house? Or should we sell?”
“Geez, Dad! I don’t know what to say! This is unexpected. Are you sure you don’t want me to move home and help you out?”
“My dear, you are a young woman just getting started. You shouldn’t have the burden of caring for an old man.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Besides at Westlake Village I’ll have a whole new audience for my jokes.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ok, let me think about it.” I sipped my whiskey. “When does Lucinda leave?”
“She is hoping to get to Florida before fall, so that gives us time. If we get things settled before then, she will go earlier. The apartment I’m moving into will be ready May first, so we have about six weeks to pack my things up. Lucinda will continue to look after the house until you make up your mind.”
“Wow, we have a lot to do before then.”
“Not to worry, Lucinda and I have already been sorting through old papers and clearing things out. When your mother got sick, I saw the writing on the wall. I’ve already gotten rid of a lot of stuff. I’ve got my favorite books already packed.” He swept his hand around. “You can either keep what’s here or donate the whole lot to the library.” He paused. “Your mother wouldn’t let me touch any of her things though. I’m afraid her bedroom, sitting room and the attic are going to be a challenge. I’m sorry, dear.”
I groaned. “Great. I’ll start as soon as I can.”
“There’s something else.” His eyes twinkled. “I have a new lawyer.”
“What?!?!” I was shocked. “You’ve been with Vince Quinn for 40 years!”
“Exactly. And he’s retiring. His son Tommy is taking over his practice. Trust me, you’ll like him. Didn’t you meet him today at the funeral? Or last night at the viewing? He was there.”
“I don’t think so. The whole thing was a blur.” Was he the cute guy I had seen standing with Vince and Margaret Mary? How could I have forgotten meeting him? “I hope he’s as good as his dad.”
“He’s got everything well in hand. Besides his father has done such a nice job helping me plan our affairs that young Tommy shouldn’t have much to do. When I die, he can probate the will and settle the estate. I’ve made a nice provision for Lucinda and left the rest to you.”
“Please don’t talk like that. I hope you’ll be around for a long time.”
“Well, no matter. Tommy will take care of it all and you won’t have to worry about a thing. And you’ll get to meet him Sunday. The Quinns have invited us for dinner. You didn’t forget?”
“No I didn’t forget.”
“Very good. Now listen, I’m going to call it a day. You start thinking about what you want to do with the house and let me know.”
I drove home in the fading light to my condo. When I’d finished school and moved home, I found that I just couldn’t stand being under the same roof as my mother. I had bought the place as soon as I could afford it. Dad helped me with the downpayment. It was just the right size for a single person with a great room and two bedrooms, the smaller of which I used as an office. I had lovingly chosen all the furnishings and artwork, the paint colors and fabrics. When I thought about how much I had put into this place, I couldn’t imagine giving it up, especially to rattle around in that big old Victorian all by myself. Besides, it’s not like the house was full of happy memories.
I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and called Joni and then Des to check in. We made plans for our usual girls’ night out next Friday night. After that I curled up on the sofa and watched TV until I started to doze.
Joey Castori hated living with his sister, Maria and her loser husband and their bratty kids. His room was a hastily converted space in the basement. Compared to his prison cell this was living in luxury and he knew he should be grateful. Besides, he couldn’t afford his own place. Yet. At least she had good cable service and fast internet. So Joey searched the web. They didn’t allow access to the internet in prison so he was never able to verify old Mick’s story until now. Sure enough, after multiple searches, everything he found checked out. God bless the Internet. Now he needed to search the name he had and see if he could find the old gal. What he found was an obituary.